JOONDALUP City Wolves coach Ben Ettridge is confident that he has his team in the best shape possible to fire this SBL Finals series with the return of Ben Ironmonger and arrival of Ryan Wright in the second half of the season big reasons why.
It hasn’t been all smooth sailing for the Wolfpack in 2017 though.
Coming off last year’s grand final appearance where they narrowly missed out on winning back-to-back SBL championships, they had added imports Richard Ross and Wade Guerin while having bid farewell to championship winners Kevin Davis and Joel Questel.
It wasn’t so much that Ross couldn’t play in the SBL, but he wasn’t the big man the Wolves were after and the decision was made to swap him out for a genuine big in Wright who has had a significant impact in his 13 games.
The return from a knee reconstruction of Ironmonger has been significant too and with Trian Iliadis, Seb Salinas and Rob Huntington continuing to star, and Damian Matacz, Jordan Wellsteed, Reece Maxwell, Rhys Smyth and Sean Easther continuing to play their role, things have clicked nicely.
The moment it all seemed to come together for the Wolfpack was after the 25-point loss in Geraldton back on June 24. Since then the Wolves have won their last seven games entering the playoffs against Goldfields, Lakeside, Perth, Cockburn, Geraldton, Willetton and South West – five of which are in the finals.
That seven-game winning run saw them finish the regular season in second position with a 20-6 record heading into a quarter-final match up against the team that got them in last year’s grand final, the Cockburn Cougars with Game 1 at Joondalup Basketball Stadium on Saturday night.
Following that disappointing trip to Geraldton, the Wolves got their focus back on finishing the season strongly and it’s hard to argue it’s worked given the results since.
“The boys set themselves a goal to finish the back end of the season on a high and I think we’ve done that,” Ettridge said.
“We’ve won seven on the trot now all against quality opposition so we’ve stood up to everything everyone has thrown at us and we’re happy to be sitting where we are and are looking forward to the Cougars in the first round.”
Looking back on that loss to the Buccs on the road, while they had their squad together they hadn’t had Ironmonger and Wright in the system for long so things were still a work in progress.
But it also opened their eyes to some things to work on and Ettridge has been happy with how things have come together since.
“You learn more than losses than you do from wins and to go up there and get your coat handed to you like we did was an eye-opener for a few of the boys,” he said.
“But we were working Ryan in, Ben Ironmonger was in and out, and once we found our feet and got it altogether we showed we can get it done.
“And our depth with Damo, Easty, Maxy, Phil and Jordan Wellsteed who started 18 games but comes off the bench as an impact guy, are giving us a second five who are starting to gel with the consistency of having time together. We are in a good place and are looking forward to it.”
The impact Wright has had on arrival with the Wolves has been significant with the Canadian not only averaging 17.9 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, but giving the team that strong inside presence at both ends of the floor.
“Every team has got a guy who he has to go up against now but that’s why he’s here,” he said.
“He’s a professional and we wanted him to be someone who brought that experience from a higher level and his leadership, and the way he goes about his business in preparation is going to take us to another level as well. I’m grateful to have him on the team and he’s fitted in extremely well.”
Another big boost the Wolfpack has received has been the return from a knee reconstruction of 2015 championship winning guard Ironmonger.
He was in outstanding form early last season before the injury and has now returned right on top of his game giving the Wolves that bit of extra strength and versatility in the back court.
“Last season when Joel (Questel) was away for the first seven weeks, Ben was our starter and had an outstanding beginning to the season,” Ettridge said.
“But to have nine months out of the game and come back in and shoot the ball exceptionally well and run the point has given us that X-factor basically.
“Adding Ryan halfway in and having Ben coming back has been that injection of firepower, decision-making and experience that we were after. Ben has been great.”
Photo by Belinda Pike (Croc Photography)