THE Joondalup Wolves aren’t afraid to take pride in their emerging young talent that they have developed while remaining the last undefeated team in the Men’s SBL for 2018 as they hit the road to take on a powerful Geraldton Buccaneers outfit in Round 5.
Round 5 of the SBL season begins with two matches on Friday night with the Mandurah Magic playing the Cockburn Cougars at Mandurah Aquatic and Recreation Centre and the Kalamunda Eastern Suns facing the Perry Lakes Hawks at Ray Owen Sports Centre.
Then on Saturday night there are games in Kalgoorlie, Geraldton and Bunbury. That sees the Goldfields Giants hosting the Willetton Tigers, the Geraldton Buccaneers taking on the Joondalup Wolves and the South West Slammers facing the Lakeside Lightning.
There are two other Saturday night games too with the Stirling Senators facing the Mandurah Magic at Warwick Stadium and the Perth Redbacks battling the East Perth Eagles at Belmont Oasis.
The round still isn’t done there with another two games on Sunday with the East Perth Eagles taking on the South West Slammers at Morley Sport and Recreation Centre, and the Lakeside Lightning playing the Rockingham Flames at Lakeside Recreation Centre.
Round 5 of the Men’s SBL begins Friday night with the Magic hosting the Cougars in Mandurah.
Mandurah led Willetton most of the way last Sunday but couldn’t quite hold on losing by six points to slip to a 1-3 record on the season despite showing some encouraging signs in Aaron Trahair’s second season at the helm.
Cockburn, meanwhile, is also 1-3 heading into the clash with the Magic heightening the stakes for both combatants. The difference between starting the campaign 1-4 and 2-3 is significant in a season that is shaping up to be so tight in the battle for playoff spots.
The other Friday night games features the Eastern Suns hosting Hawks at Kalamunda.
Kalamunda has won two games impressively at home this season against the Slammers and Eagles, but in between they have suffered losses to the Redbacks, Wolves, Lightning and Buccaneers.
That has the Suns at 2-4 to start the season and going to 2-5 wouldn’t have been the way coach Michael Clarke hoped to begin the campaign even without Louis Timms and Courtney Belger to date.
The Hawks will hope to improve on their 3-2 start to the season, though, which they have managed to do without import Tyler Monroe for all but one game as they now await the expected arrival of former Giants star and reigning league MVP Jacob Holmen.
Saturday night’s action gets underway at Active West Stadium with the Buccaneers hosting the Wolves in their first rematch since last year’s semi-final series.
That ended up going to three games with home-court advantage proving the difference with the Wolves winning Game 3 on their home floor in the last ever game at Joondalup Basketball Stadium. That saw them advance to the Grand Final and give the Buccs consecutive semi-final exits.
Both teams are looking like being genuine contenders again in 2018 with the Wolves entering the clash the last undefeated team having beaten the Senators and Slammers in a double-header last weekend.
Meanwhile, the Buccaneers lost their season-opener to the defending champion Redbacks on the road but since they have beaten East Perth, Rockingham, Willetton and Kalamunda to be 4-1 heading into hosting the undefeated Wolfpack on Saturday night.
Wolves coach Ben Ettridge might be a little bewildered with the classification of the likes of Earnest Ross, Marcus Alipate and Liam Hunt with the Buccs as unrestricted players.
But at the end of the day he is proud of having young, local players coming through to give his squad strong depth and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
It also makes him look forward to a challenge like awaits on Saturday night in Geraldton.
“I might need to get out our Australian immigration map and work out where all these places you can come from and not count as an import,” Ettridge said.
“Dan Hunt’s son is a bit like Clive Weeden where he grew up in the US but has an Aussie passport, then they have the little Tongan point guard, Earnest Ross and all power to them.
“Good on them, but we rolled out Ben Gaspar, Lachy Strelein, Jordan Wellsteed and Joel Offereins on the weekend who got the job done. I’m sure they’d take those four kids on their bench any day of the week.
“That’s the model a lot of clubs like to go for but if you look at what works with clubs like Perry Lakes, Cockburn and us, those teams that put your focus on your under-14s, 16s and 18s teams with those kids suddenly in your SBL team and they are embedded in your culture and part of the club.
“That’s how you build sustained success. One championship every 20 years is good but to be in that upper echelon for a long time is what a lot of clubs want to do because that attracts sponsors and good people to your club.
“But we know Geraldton will be tough. They will be a handful and we looked at Lasher and Natesan, so we know they are quality players. Those two alone make them a very good team and they have to put the pieces around them to compete as they did last year.”
Then also on Saturday night, Willetton is on the road trying to get a winning streak going up against the winless Giants in Kalgoorlie.
The Giants have another opportunity at Niels Hansen Basketball Centre to get that elusive first win of the season under new coach Scott Rubery, but it won’t be easy against a Tigers team who started slowly in 2018 but is warming to the task.
Following last year’s minor premiership and then semi-final exit, the Tigers lost three of their opening four games of the season before beating Mandurah coming from behind last Sunday as they try to make it two straight on Saturday night.
Then in Bunbury, another winless team in the Slammers is looking to break their duck under new coach Carl Catalano when they host the Lightning at Eaton Recreation Centre.
The Slammers were embarrassed last Sunday at HBF Arena hammered by the undefeated Wolves by 49 points. They will need to have had a week of soul searching and some hard truths told to return home and take it up to a Lightning team that will take it right to them and play in an up-tempo style against them.
The defending champion Redbacks also host the Eagles on Saturday night with Perth looking to improve on its 4-1 start to 2018 while East Perth is hunting consecutive wins having beaten Goldfields in Kalgoorlie 103-85 last Saturday night.
The last game on Saturday night pits the Senators up against the Magic with Stirling trying to rebound from its first loss of 2018 last Saturday night at home to Joondalup. The Magic will be coming hosting the Cougars on Friday.
Then on Sunday, the Eagles host the Slammers from 2pm with East Perth having played the Redbacks the previous night while the Slammers will have hosted the Lightning before making the journey from Bunbury to Morley.
Then lastly in Round 5, the Lightning host the Flames from 4pm on Sunday afternoon.
Lakeside will have played in Bunbury against the Slammers the previous evening while Rockingham will be fresh making its only appearance of the weekend and coming off a 30-point win last Friday night against Kalamunda.
MEN’S SBL FIXTURES – WEEK 5
Mandurah Magic v Cockburn Cougars – Mandurah Aquatic and Recreation Centre 8.30pm
Kalamunda Eastern Suns v Perry Lakes Hawks – Ray Owen Sports Centre 8.30pm
Goldfields Giants v Willetton Tigers – Niels Hansen Basketball Centre 7.30pm
Geraldton Buccaneers v Joondalup Wolves – Active West Stadium 7.30pm
Stirling Senators v Mandurah Magic – Warwick Stadium 8.00pm
Perth Redbacks v East Perth Eagles – Belmont Oasis 8.00pm
South West Slammers v Lakeside Lightning – Eaton Recreation Centre 8.00pm
East Perth Eagles v South West Slammers – Morley Sport and Recreation Centre 2.00pm
Lakeside Lightning v Rockingham Flames – Lakeside Recreation Centre 4.00pm