HE is one of a host of local products behind the Rockingham Flames’ rise in 2018 and Justin Beard is looking forward to continuing to battle with Perry Lakes Hawks’ captain Ben Purser this weekend with a Grand Final spot on the line.
It might be easy to look at what Greg Hire, Kevin White and Curtis Washington have brought to the Flames in 2018 to now have them one win away from Rockingham’s first ever Men’s Grand Final appearance.
But enormous credit needs to be given to the batch of local Rockingham products that provide the core group and that’s led by captain Ryan Godfrey but includes the likes of Justin, Kyle and Callum Beard, Dain and Beau Samuelson, Luke Roberts, Jarryd Griffin, Luke Travers and Melusi Mkhwananzi.
One of the brightest of those talents is Justin Beard who has had a breakout season highlighted by his career-high performance in Game 1 of the quarter finals against the Geraldton Buccaneers as he now tries to help Rockingham into the Grand Final this weekend starting with Game 2 against the Perry Lakes Hawks at Mike Barnett Sports Complex.
Beard has stepped up big time for the Flames in 2018 including scoring 20 or more points on seven occasions including that career-best showing in Game 1 of the quarter finals against the Buccs on his home floor where he had 29 points and six rebounds on shooting 12/18 from the field and 6/9 from three-point territory.
That helped lead to a stunning quarter-final win from eighth position beating the top seeded Buccs before then also winning Game 1 of the semi finals against the Hawks.
That has Beard and the Flames one win from the Grand Final and he can’t help but be excited by that prospect. But at the same time he knows how tough Perry Lakes will be to eliminate and he’s looking forward to continue to battle against Hawks skipper Ben Purser.
“It’s crazy, it’s never been done for the Rockingham men before so we could make a bit of history. We are all feeling confident and we know that we can do it, and we all want to do it. We’re all still hungry and we still have a job to do,” Beard said.
“They have a few guys there who just play their roles great and then they have Benny Purser who does a bit of everything. It’s going to be a great match up for us, but I think we match up with them pretty well and it should be a good series.
“It’s great knowing I’ll get to play against someone like Ben Purser. Knowing where he’s been when he was younger going up to the Wildcats and everything, it’s a great challenge for me to take him.
“I’m a bit nervous about it as well when you see him standing on the other side of the court, but I look forward to the challenge and go in confident and am not scared of him. I just have to keep doing what I normally do but it’s definitely exciting to play against someone like that.”
The 22-year-old has put together an impressive season averaging 12.9 points and 5.7 rebounds a game on the back of solid shooting numbers at 50.4 per cent from the field, 38.3 per cent from three-point range and 64.4 per cent from the foul line.
Beard is happy with the confidence instilled in him to go out there and play to his strengths, and it’s made him realise how much he would like to play basketball for a living at some point.
“I’ve had a decent season and some shots have been going down. I put in some work in the off-season so it’s good to see that start to pay off a little bit but it’s definitely given me a bit of confidence because I’m able to go out and do what I normally do,” Beard said.
“When I was a bit younger, I was told to go out and shoot it so it’s a good feeling when I’m told to do that at this level and just being confident.
“I’d definitely love to further my career and it’s a dream of mine to play basketball for a job. I’d much rather do that than having to work eight hours on the tools and stuff. That’s something I’d love to do and have thought a lot about.
“I had an opportunity to go and try out with the Wildcats for a DP spot a couple of weeks ago and I was a bit unsuccessful, but there’s always next year if I keep working on my game and improving.”
Beard can’t help but speak enormously highly of how much the presence and leadership of Perth Wildcats vice-captain Greg Hire and Illawarra Hawks captain Kevin White have helped Rockingham get to the position they’re in now in 2018.
But on top of that, the local Rockingham players he knows well especially twin brother Kyle and younger brother Callum make it such a special feeling around the Flames under coach Brad Samuelson who he has played under most of his life.
“It’s been amazing playing with those guys. You get to see how leaders lead and Greg has been doing it for a number of years now, and the same with Kev, at the top level in Australia,” Beard said.
“It’s good to see how they go about the game and their leadership, and just their talk on the court and changerooms at half-time and stuff is amazing. Even during games, they tell you to shoot your shots and be confident so it’s good to see players like that come here, speak up and lead the team.
“Having your brothers here alongside you is always a nice feeling to know you’ve always got them to go home with and backing you up. There’s a real family feel around the club when you’ve got us three, the two Samuelson boys and you’ve got our group who have been together since under 12s.
“It’s just unreal having this group of guys together where we get along so well off the court too. It’s a real family vibe around here.”
As for the quarter-final series win over the Buccaneers, while it was a big thing for Rockingham to win Game 1 on their whole floor, it was another thing to eliminate them in Geraldton and it will always be a great highlight of Beard’s budding career.
“It was awesome and it’s the first time I’ve ever beaten Gero in Gero. It was a great feeling and to beat the top was just unreal. We always knew that we could, we just had to put that belief out there on the court and it was a great feeling to get that job done,” he said.
“The biggest thing in that first game was that we took them out of what they wanted to do and played how we wanted to play. I was lucky enough to get a few shots off as well and for them to go down. To have a bit of confidence to take into Game 2 was nice and we all felt good heading up to Geraldton.”
The support in Rockingham has already been overwhelming for the Flames and Beard expects that only continue amongst the team and from the community ahead of Game 2 on their home floor against the Hawks with a Grand Final spot on the line.
“It’s special to have that local feel around the group and even some older boys who used to play SBL are still around and we remain good mates with them. It’s just great to have a local team and if we were able to win a championship for the first time and bring it back to Rockingham would just be great,” Beard said.
“It would be amazing if we could do it, we had a few guys in tears just after winning the quarter-final series. To be in a Grand Final that would be unreal.
“Growing up all you dream about is winning a championship and it would mean a lot to us and a lot of people around here. There would be a few wet eyes if we were able to make the Grand Final. It would be amazing.”