BEING part of fifth straight Grand Final and being such a valuable member of the Joondalup Wolves team is something Rob Huntington deserves to be proud of, but it’s trying to reward everyone else for their efforts that motivates him more than anything.
Huntington has now played 211 of his 240 SBL matches at the Wolfpack and remains a mainstay of the line-up that is preparing to take part in a fifth successive Grand Final this Saturday night against the Geraldton Buccaneers at Bendat Basketball Centre.
While new star pairing for 2019 Earnest Ross and Ridell Camidge, the returning Kevin Davis or even long-term stars Seb Salinas, Trian Iliadis and Damian Matacz get a lot of the headlines, it’s unlikely the Wolves would be as successful as they are without everything Huntington provides.
Whether it’s playing the four or five spot, Huntington is more than happy to fulfil whatever role is asked of him. He can score in a variety of ways when his number is called but is also capable setting screens and getting teammates open.
He also often defends the opposition’s best bigs and that included Shawn Redhage in the semi-final win over the Perry Lakes Hawks and now in the Grand Final will mean Liam Hunt from the Buccs.
He also rebounds well and basically is the ultimate teammate and that’s why he will once again be starting in a Grand Final team this Saturday night.
The 28-year-old has been a cornerstone of the Wolfpack team that won a championship in 2015 and has now played in each of the last three Grand Finals so it’s fair to say his motivation is high to earn that second title for himself and his teammates.
But Huntington has great respect for those at the club who put in so much time and effort, and for the family and friends that support the players and knows that they deserve to enjoy a championship as much as the players and coaches do.
“Really as players all we do is go out there and play the game we love, and win or lose, but we also have our family that stick by us the whole season,” Huntington said.
“They sit in the stands on a five-degree night in Rockingham in the middle of winter shivering their butts off, and they turn up every week doing it harder than we do at times.
“To be able to share that with them is pretty awesome and now that’s why you know that winning a championship would mean so much to share it with the people that mean a lot to you.”
The pride Huntington feels in preparing for a fifth straight Grand Final and knowing what it’s taken to get back there especially on the back of losing each of the past three is with his teammates, but he is fully aware a lot more goes into their success than just what they provide on the court.
“I guess it’s pride in the group and in the boys, and a pride in the mateship that we’ve got. One of our values is brotherhood and that probably speaks to it more than anything,” he said.
“The other side of it is that we have so many people, like every other club, who do so many hours and hours for the club outside of what we do.
“To be able to get to this point in a season to share it with all of our volunteers and people that help the team and the club in so many ways, that’s probably what makes you most proud. To put ourselves in a position to be able to share it with them is pretty special.”
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Huntington’s excitement for being in another Grand Final certainly hasn’t diminished even if it the fifth in-a-row he is now going to be participating in.
“You still feel excited for a Grand Final and if you’ve been there before or not, it doesn’t change the fact that you’ve worked so hard for it and then it comes down to one opportunity where you get to actually go out there and throw everything at one game,” Huntington said.
“It’s a pretty cool feeling and we’ve got a core group of guys who have done this together for so long and getting another chance to have another bite at it is pretty special after having a few not so great results. It’s nice to get back and have another go at it.”
It’s often said that backing up winning championships is the hardest thing to do in sports, but it could be equally argued that rebounding from losing Grand Finals is even greater challenge.
That’s why the Wolfpack deserve such respect for putting behind them losing each of the past three Grand Finals to the Cockburn Cougars, Perth Redbacks and Perry Lakes Hawks to remain the powerhouse of the Men’s SBL.
Once again they have finished the regular season on top of the ladder and then swept their way through the first two rounds of the playoffs against the Kalamunda Eastern Suns and Perry Lakes Hawks.
It can’t be easy to deal with three straight years of heartbreak and back up again the next year, but for Huntington the key is that the core group has stuck together to continue to strive for that championship together.
“I think the key is probably keeping the guys together and we do go pretty deep as a team. We’ve been together for so long now that even the time when we’re out of season, we still see each other every weekend anyway,” he said.
“So coming back for another season, we are coming back to play basketball together again but we are so familiar with one another.
“We just slide straight back into our same routines and having that continuity for the most part with Etto and Trigger with us, they’ve always given us the same process that’s worked and changed other things to keep it fresh.
“We know what we’re expecting and we know what we want to do so when we come back each year everyone is on the same page straight away.
“You get a little bit more fire because you don’t want to lose obviously, but we talked about it in the semis against Perry Lakes and they were the ones who beat us last year, and that hurt.
“So we were pretty aware of that and fired up to get them back this year, but for the most part it’s just about getting the guys back together and getting back into the season and into the processes with Etto and Trigger because it seems to work pretty well.”
Huntington has become the Jack of All Trades in his role with the Wolves too and it’s something he is more than content with at this point of his career.
“I’ve settled into this role really nicely and I suppose looking at the guys that we’ve brought in as well knowing full well that if you put five guys with that type of talent out there, and you need a glue guy,” Huntington said.
” You need someone to bring the guys together and someone to make sure we are running the right offence at the right time, and who can take advantage or someone when they are hot or when we need to include someone.
“We have Benny Ironmonger for that and for me it’s more about keeping the ship steady and there’s nothing too crazy that I really need to be doing because we have the guys to do that.
“It’s more about just getting up and down, keeping guys head’s level and trying to add value where I can. If that’s hitting a shot or two one night, or trying to pick up some boards, it doesn’t really matter. I just want to help us win and that’s what we are there for, so that’s all that matters.”
Going back seven years and it wasn’t an easy decision for Huntington to leave the Senators and there was certainly no blood there in that call. But as he now reflects, the move sure proved to a fruitful one and it’s not just because of the basketball success he’s been part of.
Huntington has now created a whole string of life-long friends over the past seven seasons with the Wolfpack.
“It’s funny when you look at the amount of success we’ve had and I’m incredibly grateful for that,” Huntington said.
“All the coaches we’ve had and imports we’ve had coming through have all had a big say in that, but we’ve always had that core group of guys and the guys I’m with now are guys that I didn’t really know before I came over. But they are going to be my best mates for the rest of my life.
“So I look at it if it was a great move and it was in terms of basketball obviously, but I’ve also found a second family as well because we are all so close away from the court as well.”
While Huntington has 240 games under his belt and is about to play in a fifth Grand Final, he is only 28 years of age so he might be the veteran stages of his career in some ways, but there’s no reason to think there’s an end to his career in sight just yet.
“I haven’t actually thought about how long I can keep going but it’s one of those things where as long as the body continues to feel good, then there’s no reason why I can’t keep going for as long as I’m still wanted and enjoying it,” he said.
“I can’t see myself stopping in the very near future and I’ll just keep plugging away, and as new guys come up that will give me the chance to step back and they can take my spot.
“We’ve had some of our more experienced guys take a bit of a backward step later in their careers to allow younger guys to get some minutes and be role players, and I’ll be more than happy doing that. That would be awesome. To see guys like Lachy Strelein, Joel Offereins and guys like that come in and feel some of those gaps would be awesome.”
Now that the Grand Final is so close, it’s only natural for the nerves to be building but for Huntington given this is his fifth straight season being involved, he knows the importance of keeping your routine as normal as possible.
“Not a whole lot changes from any other weekend really. I’ve actually got to go into work on Saturday for a few hours so it’s just one of those things where I have to go and punch the clock, and keep going,” Huntington said.
“Etto always says not to change the station in your preparation and it’s just easier to do what we normally do anyway than to try and overdo preparation and get everything perfect. It’s about keeping with what’s worked so far and sticking with it.”