The Roar
The Roar


Old foes go to war but imports key for Taipans and Wildcats

The Cairns Taipans are set to host the Perth Wildcats in the NBL semis. (AAP Image/Brian Cassey)
16th February, 2017

It has been the best individual rivalry of the past decade. Mark Worthington and Shawn Redhage go to battle one last time as the Cairns Taipans lock horns with the Perth Wildcats, but there will much more determining who advances to the NBL grand final.

The careers of Worthington and Redhage have run parallel in the league as both greats of the game in Australia. They have four championships and over 700 games between them.

The confrontations during the 2007-08 finals when Worthington was with Sydney ignited the rivalry that has turned out to be the most fascinating individual battle in the past decade.

With both having announced they will retire at the end of the season, it’s only fitting their teams do battle once more. It starts Friday night in Game 1 of the semi-final series between the Taipans and Wildcats at Cairns Convention Centre.

While Worthington and Redhage provide some intrigue, the series is likely to decided elsewhere and it could well be the imports that prove the deciding factor.

The big men can make an impact and Cairns’ Nnanna Egwu, and Perth’s Jameel McKay will have a role to play but they aren’t the ones either side will be looking to be the match-winners.

The series looks set to be largely determined by who can have the greater impact out of Wildcats pair Casey Prather and Bryce Cotton, or Snakes duo Travis Trice and Tony Mitchell.

Cotton has made an immediate impact with the ‘Cats since arriving for the final 11 games to replace Jaron Johnson. He has averaged 22.1 points a game and shown a knack of catching fire in bursts, and hitting the big shots when needed most.



Prather, meanwhile, was in a bit of a down patch once Cotton arrived as he battled some niggling injuries. But in the final round he put the team on his back to lead them to wins over Sydney and Melbourne to get Perth into a 31st straight finals series.

If Prather and Cotton are able to get their confidence up in the series, they are comfortably capable of putting up 50-plus points between them and give the Wildcats the necessary momentum to win.

For the Taipans to match that, they will need to do well defensively and they are well known for that.

They also need to score enough themselves and while they need Cam Gliddon, Mitch McCarron, Jarrad Weeks, Alex Loughton, Stephen Weigh and Worthington to make shots, and Nate Jawai to have an impact inside, it’s Trice and Mitchell who need a good series.

Both are capable of making plays themselves with ball in hand and providing the kind of x-factor that tops off what the rest of their teammates bring.

Trice has had his dominant moments throughout the season while Mitchell has been a late replacement for Fuquan Edwin. In eight games already shown he is a significant upgrade highlighted by his 20-point outburst in a win at home over Perth.


Trice will likely have to overcome the stifling defence of Wildcats captain Damian Martin to be effective while Mitchell is the obvious match up for Prather.

It’s too simplistic to say any one or two players will decide a series, but whoever can have the biggest impact out of Mitchell/Trice and Prather/Cotton will go a long way to locking in a grand final berth against either the Adelaide 36ers or Illawarra Hawks.

Worthington won his NBL championship in 2009 at the South Dragons on the back of playing in two grand finals with the Kings. He hasn’t been back to a grand final since despite semi-final appearances at the Gold Coast Blaze and Melbourne Tigers.

He would love nothing more than to finish off his career by helping bring Cairns its first ever championship, but Perth stands in the way.

“Obviously there’s been no greater challenge than Perth the last couple of years and if we want to win a championship it’s a great test for us to start off with,” Worthington said.

“The club has been around for a while now and after a year where there’s been sporting fairy tales, it would be fitting for Cairns to be the next one.

“We had the Western Bulldogs, Leicester City, Cleveland Cavaliers and the Chicago Cubs, and the stories are endless of teams who have finally reached that point.


“For me, Cairns gave me a start as a 17-year-old as their first ever development player so to come full circle now and finish my career here, it would be really nice to repay the Orange Army for all the support they give to this team and this town with a championship.”

Redhage already is a three-time championship winner with the Wildcats to go with his equal record six club MVP awards along with being second in games played only behind Ricky Grace.

He too would love to go out with a fourth title but knows the challenge of needing to win at least once in Cairns to make a grand final is significant.

“In the years when we’ve had success we have had home-court advantage so for us and a number of guys who have been here a while, we look at this as a huge challenge and a huge opportunity to prove that we can have success no matter what position you finish,” Redhage said.

“We’ve talked all season about trying to play our best basketball by this time of the year. Obviously getting everyone healthy helps that, and Damo is back and Casey is back to his usual self and the same with Matty Knight.

“When you are missing those guys or they’re not 100 per cent, they are big keys and then adding Bryce into his role and I like how we are coming together at the right time of the year.”

Worthington is a West Australian and has always lifted against his home town team. He is looking forward to getting one more game in Perth along with one more battle with old foe Redhage.


Alex Pledger and Shawn Redhage compete for the basketball

“It’s poetic in its own way and being a WA boy it is a nice feeling knowing that I get to play at Perth Arena just one more time,” Worthington said.

“It’s almost poetic justice that either Shawn’s career or my career will be over by the hand of the other person at the end of the day.

“I know there’s a lot been made of the rivalry but there really hasn’t been that big of a rivalry in a number of years, it just makes for good reading and people look forward to the match up if nothing else and it sells papers, that’s what I’m pretty sure it does.”

While Redhage and Worthington have had countless tense battles with one another over the years, they were Boomers teammates at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Redhage has always had respect for him despite the ferocity at times on the court between them.

“I think we both respect the competitors that we are when we step on the court and that you’re going to play, and try to help your team win any way you can,” Redhage said.

“It’s one of those things where you enjoy the battle and part of the reason you play professional basketball is because you know you will go against some of the best in the world.


“After our last game when we weren’t sure if we’d play each other again, we both had the chance to say congrats on a great career.

“We’ve never really had the chance to see each other outside the court but I’m sure at some stage later in our lives our paths will cross again and there’s definitely respect there from knowing what a professional basketballer has to go through to play this long.”

Meanwhile, Adelaide claimed Game 1 of its series with Illawarra with a 93-78 win at home on Thursday night with MVP Jerome Randle putting on a show with 26 points.

NBL semi finals (AEDT)
GAME 1: Adelaide 36ers 93 beat Illawarra Hawks 78 – Titanium Security Arena

GAME 1: Cairns Taipans v Perth Wildcats – Cairns Convention Centre 4.30pm

GAME 2: Illawarra Hawks v Adelaide 36ers – WIN Entertainment Centre 3pm

GAME 2: Perth Wildcats v Cairns Taipans – Perth Arena 9.30pm


GAME 3 (if required): Adelaide 36ers v Illawarra Hawks – Titanium Security Arena 4.30pm

GAME 3 (if required): Cairns Taipans v Perth Wildcats – Cairns Convention Centre 4.30pm