The Roar
The Roar


Three-way race for the NBL championship

Nate Jawai will line up for the Cairns Taipans as they take on the Perth Wildcats away from home. (AFP PHOTO / GERARD JULIEN)
5th January, 2016

Surrounding star players with a strong supporting cast might sound obvious, but it’s exactly the reason why only the Illawarra Hawks, Perth Wildcats and New Zealand Breakers appear likely to win the NBL championship in 2016.

Melbourne United have plenty of individual talent, but not quite the support cast or team chemistry of those three.

The Adelaide 36ers potentially have the best little and big man in the league, but not enough in between.

The Cairns Taipans have loaded up on veteran power forwards, but haven’t been able to replace what Scottie Wilbekin provided in their minor premiership season last year.

That leaves the Hawks, Wildcats and Breakers as the teams with all the right pieces to make a run at the championship.

Coming into 2016, the Wildcats remain on top of the ladder at 14-7 but have lost their last two games heading into a crucial clash with the Taipans in Cairns on Wednesday.

The Cats have plenty of championship platers, with Damian Martin, Shawn Redhage and Jesse Wagstaff two-time winners, and Matt Knight, Greg Hire, Jermaine Beal and Tom Jervis having been there for the 2014 title.

Nathan Jawai, Casey Prather and Jarrod Kenny are then far more than your usual supporting cast.


With Beal and Prather dynamic imports and Jawai a massive presence, that gives the Wildcats plenty of firepower, without taking into account the experience of Knight, Redhage, Martin and Wagstaff.

The Breakers have hit a little hurdle, losing their last two games to be clinging to fourth spot at 11-7 as they struggle to get their best team on the court. Last week they were missing Tom Abercrombie and this week it could be Mika Vukona.

But the backcourt of Cedric Jackson and Corey Webster is unstoppable when on song. With Webster’s unmatched scoring ability in the NBL and Jackson’s ability to do so much, they’ve never played in a season together that hasn’t finished with a championship.

When you add Vukona, Abercrombie and Alex Pledger there’s plenty of championship experience. Charles Jackson provides the rookie energy and Tai Wesley has all the post moves of a grizzled veteran.

They might not have quite hit their peak this season, but when the whips are cracking the Breakers will be a real chance at a fifth championship in six years.

Then there are the Hawks, who enter 2016 as the hottest team in the NBL, having won seven of their last eight while scoring almost 102 points on average in that stretch, with a winning margin over 20.

Rob Beveridge took over as coach of the Hawks not only looking to sign the biggest and best stars available, but to surround them with a strong support cast. His ability to do both is a major reason why they are playing so well.


Kevin Lisch, Kirk Penney and AJ Ogilvy have been dubbed the ‘Big Three’ and for good reason. Lisch and Penney are former league MVP winners, and Ogilvy could well take the award this season.

As a trio, they are averaging 60.1 points, 14.5 rebounds and 8.9 assists in the Hawks’ run of winning seven of the last eight games.

However, no team can have success with three stars and no back-up, which is where the Hawks have put together such an impressive squad.

Lisch has support running the ship by veteran Rhys Martin, the tenacious Kevin White and the emerging Jarrad Weeks. Penney has Illawarra’s club MVP of last season Tim Coenraad helping out, while Oscar Forman, Cody Ellis and Larry Davidson assist Ogilvy in the front court.

That’s a group well-balanced and capable of going all the way this season now that they are healthy, and their full-court pressure defence is proving just as effective as their offensive firepower.

As for the rest, Melbourne United has plenty of talent with Chris Goulding, Daniel Kickert, Hakim Warrick, Stephen Holt and Todd Blanchfield, but they don’t have the chemistry or depth. It would be a surprise to see them beat the Wildcats, Breakers or Hawks in a three-game series.

The Taipans made the grand final last season and made few changes, with Mark Worthington arriving and Markel Starks replacing Wilbekin.


Chemistry has been a problem this season, with Worthington, Alex Loughton and Cameron Tragardh all similar as power forwards in terms of experience, leadership and in the way they play. Coach Aaron Fearne hasn’t quite got the best out of the star trio and isn’t getting the same out of the rest of his team as he did last season, leaving them looking unlikely playoff participants.

The 36ers also appear unlikely to make the post-season. They could have the league MVP in Jerome Randle and big man Daniel Johnson has had some terrific outings. Anthony Petrie and Adam Gibson offer strong leadership, and Mitch Creek is getting better, but they just don’t have the star power or depth of the top teams.

The refusal to replace veteran import Ebi Ere with someone more capable of being a game-changer has likely cost them a playoff spot, not to mention a chance at the championship.

Round 14 NBL fixtures

Cairns Taipans v Perth Wildcats (Cairns Convention Centre) – Fox Sports 3, 7:30pm

Melbourne United v Illawarra Hawks (State Netball andamp; Hockey Centre) – Fox Sports 3, 7:30pm

New Zealand Breakers v Adelaide 36ers (North Shore Events Centre) – Fox Sports 3, 5:30pm
Cairns Taipans v Townsville Crocodiles (Cairns Convention Centre) – Fox Sports 3, 7:30pm

Sydney Kings v Illawarra Hawks (Sydney Olympic Park Centre) – Fox Sports 3, 7:30pm