THE Joondalup City Wolves are gearing up for a third straight Men’s SBL Grand Final on Saturday night with the Perth Redbacks preparing for a first in 18 years and with two experienced, star-studded group it promises to be quite the spectacle.
The Men’s SBL Grand Final for 2017 takes place Saturday night at Bendat Basketball Centre between the recent powerhouse Joondalup City Wolves and a Perth Redbacks trying to reclaim that status as a strong force in the league.
The Wolves are playing in a third successive SBL Grand Final and a fifth in the past seven years while the Redbacks are in a first decider since 1999.
In that stretch of five Grand Finals now in seven years, the Wolfpack won championships in 2011 and 2015 while losing in 2013 and 2016. That 2011 triumph was their first championship in 18 years.
The Redbacks won championships in 1989, 1990 and 1997 while also making the Grand Final in 1999 but they haven’t managed to get back there until now.
The Wolfpack finished the regular season in second position with a 20-6 record before getting a measure of revenge for last year’s Grand Final against the Cockburn Cougars beating them in three games in the quarter finals.
The Wolves then beat the Geraldton Buccaneers in three games in the semi finals ending in Game 3 last Sunday in the last ever game at Joondalup Basketball Stadium.
The Redbacks finished the season in fourth position with a 16-10 record before overcoming the South West Slammers in three games of the quarter finals. They then beat the minor premier Willetton Tigers in two games of the semi finals to book their place in the Grand Final.
The Wolves and Redbacks met twice during the season with Joondalup winning at home by seven points and at Belmont Oasis by 12. It was the Wolfpack who also eliminated Perth in last year’s quarter finals.
The match ups are going to be fascinating all over the court as well starting with the Redbacks front court Michael Vigor, Lee Roberts and Shawn Redhage up against Ryan Wright, Rob Huntington, Damian Matacz and at times captain Seb Salinas playing above his height and weight.
Then there is the Redbacks back court including captain Joel Wagner, Ben Smith and newly signed Illawarra Hawks development player Marshall Nelson up against Trian Iliadis, Ben Ironmonger, Reece Maxwell and Rhys Smyth from the Wolves.
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Wolfpack coach Ben Ettridge knows that stopping Redhage from the Redbacks in particular will be a big factor in the end result but it will also come down to who gets to play the game on their terms.
“They’ve got a focal point to the basket in Shawn Redhage with all his years of experience that is phenomenal, but he has to deliver still in the Grand Final even if it’s not as big of a stage as he’s done it on before. He will go a long way into determining the outcome of the game so we have to get a handle on him and then we go from there,” Ettridge said.
“They play a bit different to us and try to run the three bigs so one of them is going to have to try to chase Seb or Trian around picks so that’s where I guess it’s a bit of a different game plan between us.
“It will be a battle down there but hopefully the big guys are allowed to play. I would hate to see Lee and Ryan sitting on the bench halfway through the first quarter, but you have to adjust to what’s happening.”
Redbacks coach Nik Lackovic is confident that if his team can do the things they have done so well over the past six or seven weeks that they will be a good chance of prevailing.
“We trust and have a belief in our system, and our structures at both ends of the floor and we have an amazing culture. The development of the player group from Week 1 through to Week 20 is where they have grown that strength of mind and body moving forward,” Lackovic said.
“Whilst it’s one game now, we just have to focus on the things we can control and that’s what has got us to this position. Nothing changes for us and we just have to play an exceptional game against a high quality team.”
Wolves guard Reece Maxwell is one of the few players on his team yet to taste championship glory having played in two losing Grand Finals and he hopes that changes Saturday night.
“I’m still yet to taste a win in a Grand Final for myself so hopefully we can make up for last year now on Saturday night,” Maxwell said.
“I’ve spent eight or nine seasons here now and this core group we’ve had together for about six years now, and most of my best mates are all part of this club.
“So to be able to sink beers with them around the barbecue looking back on a championship would be massive. This club means everything to me so it would mean the world to win a championship and I could never imagine myself playing for anyone else.”
Redbacks star and Perth Wildcats NBL legend Shawn Redhage has enjoyed his time in the SBL more than he even thought he might and now after four titles with the ‘Cats, he would love to help Perth achieve its first in 20 years.
“We have got everyone back on the same page and we have our full team finally together for an extended time. Marshall is coming into his own in the last part of the season and everyone is starting to find their best role on the team. We are looking forward to the challenge,” Redhage said.
“You look at the Redbacks and they’ve had some great teams that haven’t quite been able to win a championship for 20 years and you look at a guy like Joel, he would do anything to help his team win and I have a tremendous amount of respect for what he brings on a day-to-day basis.
“If I could help a club who hasn’t tasted that championship for 20 years achieve that it would be pretty special and that’s something that we are all striving for me. I think sometimes when you haven’t tasted that for a long time it provides that extra incentive to try and help the team get to the top.”
MEN’S SBL GRAND FINAL 2017
Joondalup City Wolves v Perth Redbacks – Bendat Basketball Centre 7.30pm
Photo by Mick Cronin