Perth have been awarded the NBL championship, the league announcing their decision two days after their finals series against Sydney was cancelled.
The attention might be focused elsewhere in the build-up to the Round 9 NBL blockbuster between the Perth Wildcats and Sydney Kings, but Brad Newley remains key to a win for the visitors and he has no doubt his team is on track to do something special.
Round 9 of the NBL begins on Friday night at RAC Arena with the league-leading Wildcats hosting the third-placed Kings in what could very well be the most anticipated game of the season to date.
The two teams met in Sydney just eight days ago with the Kings coming away with the win but the Wildcats now welcome back reigning league MVP Bryce Cotton for Friday night as he heads into a tantalising match up with another former MVP Jerome Randle.
You also have other battles like former championship teammates Damian Martin and Kevin Lisch locking horns, Boomers power forwards Nick Kay and Daniel Kickert going toe-to-toe and then inside is where all the talk really is between Angus Brandt and Andrew Bogut.
Things took quite a remarkable turn on Thursday when Brandt opened up on Perth radio about what he thought of the way Bogut conducts himself, particularly on social media but also at times on the court, labelling him a ‘pork chop’ and ‘pest’.
Bogut responded in kind upon arrival in Perth saying that Brandt’s comments about him being a pest without anything to back up why say more about the Wildcats centre than it does about himself, and the former No.1 NBA draft pick and championship winner wasn’t going to be at all rattled.
Throw in the fact that Bogut and Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson had a run-in late in last Thursday’s game that led to Gleeson being fined by the NBL, and it’s a game that has plenty at stake and even more to look forward to.
With all the stars all over the court in both groups, it’s hard to give enough of the spotlight to everyone but Sydney’s dual Olympian Newley could very well be one player who has the potential to have the biggest say on the final result.
Newley is now in his third season back in the NBL and with the Kings after he put together quite the successful stint in Europe for much of the previous decade having started his career as a teenager with the Townsville Crocodiles.
After two frustrating seasons where Newley has continued to be one of the league’s best small forwards but the Kings managed to win just 24 of 56 games, things are certainly much more enjoyable for the 33-year-old so far in the 2018-19 campaign.
Sydney comes into Friday night’s clash on the road to Perth looking to hand the Wildcats their first loss inside RAC Arena for the season while improving on their own 7-4 record which is on the back of consecutive wins, and winning four of the past five.
Showing the growth of this Kings team with the additions of Bogut, Randle, Kickert and even Brian Bowen to the group still headed up by Lisch and Newley is the fact that no longer is he required to put the team on his back for them to win.
That doesn’t mean he’s not capable of big performances including 16 points and nine rebounds in last Thursday’s win over Perth and 26 points, six boards and four assists going back further to an impressive road victory to Adelaide.
But the Kings still won on Sunday in New Zealand despite him contributing just five points and three rebounds.
For Newley, at this point of his career winning is all that matters and after those challenges of the past two years, he couldn’t be happier to be part of a team that is improving all the time and has every reason to think it can challenge for the championship.
“I’m rapt with how things are going. This time last year we were in a bit of a hole and just trying to grind it out to get something out of the year, but right now we have a positive record and we haven’t had that for a few years,” Newley said.
“You bring in Andrew Bogut, Daniel Kickert and have Jerome Randle for a full season, these are big changes and having a healthy Kevin Lisch makes a lot of difference too.
“Having those guys around me out there gives me a lot more confidence knowing what’s helping us and young Brian Bowen has been really good too for us. When I’ve had quieter games he’s come in and stepped up.
“There’s a little bit less pressure on me but at the same time I don’t want to go into that shell where I don’t have to contribute because the moment you do that you kind of bury yourself. I just want to keep going about my business to do what I can to help this side win.”
Watching Newley of this season compared to last and it’s hard to not notice the passion he’s showing and the enjoyment he is taking in being part of wins.
The past two seasons as the losses mounted saw the pressure grow on Newley’s shoulders and the weight of that was showing, but he is making sure to enjoy every victory right now and to take nothing for granted.
“I just think you really need to enjoy your victories because last year was pretty lean and a grumpy season for me personally,” he said.
“I just want to be able to enjoy the wins and losses are tough and I want to get better at how I deal with those, but at the same time you don’t want to lose and worry about it.
“This year if we win I’m definitely going to be happy about it and you want to keep on winning and winning. We are trying to form that winning habit.”
While the Kings have won in New Zealand (twice) and Adelaide so far this season, winning in Perth is a whole other challenge they face this Friday night.
But given they have now won three straight against the Wildcats dating back to last season, the Kings deserve to go into the game with confidence and Newley sees no reason they can’t do well even in Perth.
“You look back to that little run we had toward the end of last season and we ticked a bit of a box and grew a little bit by beating them twice even though personnel-wise they have changed quite a lot bringing in for Terrico White for Tokoto and there’s a couple of other changes,” Newley said.
“You can’t read too much into that, but I just think from a club point of view and even for players, we approached that a lot different as to had we not beaten them at all. We definitely think we can get them and it’s time to come out and put in the work.”
NBL Round 9 Fixtures (AEDT)
Perth Wildcats v Sydney Kings – RAC Arena 9.50pm
Brisbane Bullets v Adelaide 36ers – Titanium Security Arena 2.50pm
Illawarra Hawks v Sydney Kings – WIN Entertainment Centre 2.50pm
Cairns Taipans v New Zealand Breakers – Cairns Convention Centre 5.20pm
Melbourne United v Perth Wildcats – Melbourne Arena 7.50pm