NEWCASTLE Hunters will treat their Waratah Basketball League men’s championship game against Manly Warringah Sea Eagles at Broadmeadow on Saturday night as a finals dress rehearsal.
Chasing a 10th straight victory, the league-leading Hunters (14-2) will host the second-placed Sea Eagles (12-4) in a top-of-the-table tussle, and Newcastle coach Darren Nichols anticipates it will not be the last time the teams meet this year.
Newcastle toppled Manly 90-69 at Northern Beaches Indoor Sports Centre on May 12 as part of their nine-game winning streak. Manly have won five of seven since then, including their past three on the trot, and are trying to secure a top-two finish and a guaranteed semi-final berth.
The top two teams at the end of the regular season will automatically qualify for finals weekend at Hills on August 18-19, avoiding sudden-death play-offs on August 11 between the teams that finish third to sixth.
Newcastle are well placed to finish in the top two, with games to come against last-placed Bankstown (1-14) and derby rivals Central Coast (8-8) and Maitland (5-11), but Nichols is not looking past Manly and a chance to strike a psychological blow against a likely finals opponent.
“Our goal is to finish on top,” Nichols said. “Manly are a tough team, a very physical team, and it was a tough encounter against them down there a couple of months ago. They’re a well-drilled side, they’ve got a couple of ex-NBL players in Luke Cooper and Steven White, they’re well coached by Nathan Kirwan, the head of high performance at Basketball NSW, and they’re a team we’ll probably have to play again before the end of the season.
“We didn’t have Josh Morgan when we played them down there, so it will be good to have him on deck this time, but we’re still not at full strength because Ben Hawkesley and Ryan Beisty are out. In saying that, Austin Thornton and Sharif Watson are great competitors and they play with a winner’s mentality, and that’s rubbed off on the team as we’ve progressed and developed this season.”
The game is scheduled for a 7:15pm tip-off, and there will be preliminary games from 1pm.
The Hunters women’s championship team, sitting fourth with a 9-5 record, have a bye this weekend.