It feels like forever. It almost has been. By the time the SIT Zero Fees Southland Sharks run out onto their home court at ILT Stadium Southland on Thursday night it will have been 655 days since the men in orange played in front of their home faithful.
And my how the world has changed since then.
One thing that won’t change is the fever-pitched atmosphere in the Invercargill amphitheatre known as the Shark Tank with strong ticketing demand pointing to a cracking home crowd to open the Sharks’ 2021 home Sal’s National Basketball League season.
“It’s been such a long time coming and as it’s got closer and closer you can just feel the excitement building around the team, our fans and the community,” Sharks’ General Manager Jill Bolger said.
“We know how much the team means to us and it’s been so nice to see how much we’ve been missed. I know the boys are absolutely fizzing to get out in front of a home crowd,” she said.
It will be a new experience for many of the men in orange with only Dom Kelman-Poto and locals Andrew Wheeler, Tom Cowie and Connor Coll having played for the Sharks in Invercargill. It points to the fresh squad new Head Coach Rob “Bevo” Beveridge has put together for this season and it’s one that made a solid start on Monday afternoon in Nelson.
The Sharks opened their campaign with an 84-65 road win over the Nelson Giants. In a game plagued by early turn-overs and rust, the Sharks finished strongly, winning every quarter to open their season on the right note.
Particularly pleasing for Coach Beveridge was the balanced scoring and the fact that his full squad saw court-time with six players finishing in double figures. Brayden Inger (15), Courtney Belger (14), Toby Gillooly (12), Dom Kelman-Poto (11), Josh Cunningham (10) and Johnny Helu (10) all contributed in what was a solid team effort.
And while it was scrappy, Beveridge knows that any win on the road is a good win and he can’t help but be impressed with how his team put things together this past week after a short turn-around following American imports Belger and Cunningham’s late arrival from managed isolation last Monday.
“I want us to compete, I want us to play hard and I want us to have some fun. We’ve got a great group of guys and they are turning up every day and working their butts off so I can’t ask for anything more,” Beveridge said.
“I can’t wait until Thursday night. Everyone has been telling me to wait and see this place (ILT Stadium) rocking on Thursday and I’m legitimately excited about getting out and showing what we can do in front of thousands of our fans,” he said.
The game will tip off just after 7:30pm Thursday night with doors opening from 6:30pm. Tickets are available from ILT Stadium Southland reception with full information at sharksbasketball.co.nz/tickets.