IT had all the makings of a night to remember at Bendat Basketball Centre and it proved to be for all the right reasons for the Rockingham Flames as they marked Brad Robbins’ debut with a 24-point thumping of the Perry Lakes Hawks and their own debutant, Shawn Redhage.
There was a big build-up to the contest even more than usual for a semi-final rematch from the previous year when Redhage signed with Perry Lakes during the week with the all-time NBL and Perth Wildcats legend to suit up for the Hawks for the first time.
Add in the fact that his former Wildcats championship teammate Robbins was going to play for Rockingham for the first time and another four-time Perth NBL championship winner Greg Hire back as well, the star power was significant.
Throw in Clint Steindl playing for Perry Lakes as well and the added factor that the two teams created quite the rivalry in the semi finals of last year with the Hawks prevailing in three games on the way to the championship, and there was plenty of reasons to look forward to it.
But in terms of a contest, the Flames soon made sure it wasn’t much of one opening up a big lead early and never really being threatened on their way to the best performance of the season coinciding with being full strength for the first time in 2019.
The result was Rockingham winning 86-62 to improve to 8-4 on the season while Perry Lakes are now 7-4 in their championship defence despite having won six of their previous seven matches coming into Friday night.
The two teams had already met in Rockingham earlier this season with the Flames winning by 17 but the Hawks got their championship defence on track winning seven of the next eight games heading into Friday night.
Coming off wins by a combined 52 points over East Perth and Kalamunda along with the addition of Shawn Redhage meant Perry Lakes had every reason to be feeling good coming into the game, but Rockingham had other ideas.
With Brad Robbins shaking off two torn hamstrings early this year to make his Flames debut and play his first SBL game since 2015 and with Greg Hire returning from helping Australia qualify for the 3×3 World Cup, the Flames were full strength for the first time in 2019 as well.
Perry Lakes might have scored first thanks to Clint Steindl free-throws but once Greg Hire got a trademark offensive board and put back, the Flames could sense they were on song.
Caleb White then nailed a jumper and so did young gun Luke Travers, who then made it an 10-2 start when he hit two pairs of free-throws.
Ben Purser eventually hit Perry Lakes’ first field goal more than six minutes into the game but when Travers continued his hot start with a big dunk, Rockingham was up 16-4 in a stunning opening that soon became 18-4 with two more Travers foul shots.
Travers then hit a jumper as the Flames led 23-6 by quarter-time and that became 25-6 to start the second term thanks to Chudier Pal. It was dominance by Rockingham to a remarkable level with Josh Ritchart and White draining triples to see them lead 31-10.
Purser continued to play a lonehand for the Hawks and then Kyle Sovine hit a three to have them back within 15, but Ritchart responded in kind immediately. Another Travers dunk had the Flames back up by 20 which became 22 after a three-point play from Hire.
Redhage eventually got his first point with a free-throw with two minutes to go in the half but it was all Rockingham at half-time leading 47-29.
The anticipated Perry Lakes fightback in the second half never materialised despite Redhage hitting his first field goal at the Hawks early in the third period.
Consecutive Justin Beard triples midway through the quarter ended any hopes the Hawks had of fighting back when it became a 25-point ball game. Travers’ stunning outing continued with another three heading towards three quarter-time too with the Flames up 66-42 going into the fourth.
It was all academic in the last term and Rockingham finished in style when Ben Johnson hit a triple to secure the 24-point win.
It was the defensive effort of the Flames that stood out the most holding the potent Hawks to going 21/75 at 28 per cent from the field and 5/29 at 17 per cent from downtown. They shot it 41 and 24 per cent respectively themselves.
Flames coach Ryan Petrik was particularly delighted with that defensive performance.
“We think we match up pretty well with them and the other part is that we destroyed our guys in film again on Monday after their insipid performance against the Senators,” Petrik said.
“We did the same exercise after we lost to the Redbacks and narrowly beat Kalgoorlie going back a few weeks, and they responded unbelievably well out in Kalgoorlie defensively. So we thought we’d smash them again and see what happens. Defensively obviously the boys were really switched on.
“Defensively that would be the best we’ve played, even though we were pretty good in Kalgoorlie. We’ve played better offensively in the first game against Perry Lakes at home, but we just have to get guys up to speed which is hard when they are in and out all the time.
“We are still drawing up plays for guys on the whiteboard pre-game because they haven’t been here, which is fine, but defensively that was definitely the best we’ve been.”
Luke Travers top-scored for Rockingham with 20 points on 6/9 shooting from the field, 2/4 from deep and 6/6 at the line.
Greg Hire finished with 16 points, 15 rebounds, eight assists and three steals for the Flames while Chudier Pal produced 10 points, six boards and five blocks, Ryan Godfrey nine points, five assists and three boards, Josh Ritchart nine points and four rebounds, and Justin Beard eight points and four boards.
Clint Steindl had a shooting night to forget going 4/18 from the field and 1/8 from deep. He did go a perfect 7/7 at the foul line for 16 points to top-score for Perry Lakes.
Shawn Redhage had seven points and five rebounds while Ben Purser finished with seven points, six assists and five boards, Rob Cassir seven points and four assists, and Kyle Sovine seven points and five rebounds.
Playing his first SBL game in four years meant that there were certainly nerves for Robbins, but once he got on the court he quickly enjoyed being part of such an impressive Flames performance.
“I mean it was nerve-racking. I don’t care how many times I’ve been out there, it’s nerve-racking up until the moment you walk onto the floor,” Robbins said.
“Once I’m out there, you kind of lose the butterflies and it all just comes back to you naturally and it is kind of like riding a bike, but you feel like you are pushing the pedals in fourth or fifth gear instead of first or second.
“The legs are a little heavy and I’m still very hesitant to really push my body. I just want to take it one game at a time but once I was out there it was just like riding a bike.”
Robbins also was glad the hand fate played in coinciding his Rockingham debut with that of Redhage for Perry Lakes.
The pair first played against one another in the SEABL in 2004 before becoming long-time Wildcats teammates between 2006 and 2013 so Robbins was glad to share the floor with him again.
“Even recently when I was doing the Fox commentary for the NBL and Shawny ends up doing it, honestly it is quite comical how our journeys seem to follow one anothers,” Robbins said.
“But that was actually really cool and I was super pumped when I saw that he would be playing in this game as well. We both had a joke before the game about back in SEABL when we first matched up against each other and how our careers have crossed paths in many ways.
“It is a really special thing to get out there and when I see him out there, it gives me a bit of a smile. It’s very cool to see him out there and also tonight there were guys like Robbie Cassir and Benny Purser who were young players when I was at the ‘Cats. It’s really cool to be out there with them.”
MEN’S SBL FIXTURES – WEEK 9
ID Athletic Perry Lakes Hawks 62 lost to Sinclair McDonald’s Rockingham Flames 86
Willetton Tigers 86 lost to Texture WA Perth Redbacks 94
Prestige Honda Melville Cockburn Cougars 80 lost to Chambers Franklyn Joondalup City Wolves 86
CMTG East Perth Eagles v Lakeside Lightning – Herb Graham Recreation Centre 6.00pm
Chambers Franklyn Joondalup City Wolves v Mandurah Magic – HBF Arena 6.00pm
Quadrio Earthmoving Geraldton Buccaneers v Kalamunda Eastern Suns – Active West Stadium 7.30pm
ID Athletic Perry Lakes Hawks v Northern Star Resources Goldfields Giants – Bendat Basketball Centre 7.30pm
Print Sync South West Slammers v Bethanie Warwick Senators – Eaton Recreation Centre 8.00pm
Texture WA Perth Redbacks v Northern Star Resources Goldfields Giants – Belmont Oasis 12.00pm