NEWCASTLE Hunters men’s coach Darren Nichols hopes to salvage something substantial from a challenging Waratah Basketball League campaign by keeping the Kibble Mallon Cup.
To do that, the last-placed Hunters (2-15) must beat arch rivals Maitland Mustangs (10-7) in the second leg of the Cup derby at Maitland Federation Centre on Saturday night.
The fifth-placed Mustangs, who are on track to reach the finals on their home court on August 12-13, defeated Newcastle 73-64 in the first leg at Broadmeadow on April 22.
Maitland, who have not held the Cup since 2014, need to win both games this season to wrest it from Newcastle’s grip. As holders, the Hunters need to win only one of two to keep it.
Newcastle have lost 11 straight games this season and slipped to the bottom of the ladder after their 74-59 loss to Sutherland Sharks at Sutherland last Saturday, but Nichols has not given up hope of the Hunters upsetting their neighbours and hanging on to the coveted trophy for another year.
“We have been working towards this game for a few weeks now,” Nichols said.
“It is one of our highest priorities at the start of any season.
“With only a couple of wins and so many close games, we have a chance to finish on a high.
“Maitland in the past have always played the underdog card every time we play.
“They are a good team this year and have talked themselves up big time as championship-winners for this season, so good luck to them.
“But this is for the Kibble Mallon Cup, we still have it, and we don’t intend on giving it back without a fight.”
This is for the Kibble Mallon Cup, we still have it, and we don’t intend on giving it back without a fight.
Nichols was referring to comments Maitland coach Luke Boyle made in the Newcastle Herald before the first game at Broadmeadow, when the Mustangs were second on the ladder with a 5-1 record. They moved to 6-1 and top spot when they defeated the Hunters that night.
“At the start of the year we set our goals at qualifying for the play-offs,” Boyle said.
“We now see ourselves as a team vying for top spot and going all the way.”
Meantime, fifth-placed Newcastle (7-7) will know if they are still in the women’s championship play-off race before taking the court against eighth-placed Hills Hornets (1-11) at Hills on Sunday.
Newcastle, the reigning title-holders, must win their last two games, against Hills then Norths on July 29. But second-placed Norths (9-3) will end Newcastle’s hopes if they beat seventh-placed Sydney (3-10) at Northern Suburbs Indoor Sports Centre on Saturday, or last-placed Illawarra (1-12) at the Snakepit on Sunday.