THE Warwick Senators and Perry Lakes Hawks finished top two in the West Coast Classic, won their semi-final match ups on Friday night and now both clubs agree they are throwing everything into winning Sunday’s Grand Final as they would if it was an official SBL competition.
The West Coast Classic was started up in 2020 as a replacement for the cancelled SBL season that was forced into a significant delay thanks to COVID-19, but you can’t argue the level of commitment from those players and coaches who have remained involved over the past 10 weeks.
It all comes down to the Grand Final on Sunday night at Bendat Basketball Centre with the Senators advancing on the back of a semi-final win against the Lakeside Lightning on Friday night while the Hawks booked their place with a win on their home floor against the Joondalup Wolves.
Warwick now enters the Grand Final having won 13 games in-a-row but that did come after a loss to open the West Coast Classic against the Hawks also at Bendat Basketball Centre.
Perry Lakes comes into the Grand Final in some ominous form too having won five straight matches and their last four against Geraldton, Kalamunda, Cockburn and then Joondalup on Friday night have come with an average winning margin of 28.3 points.
With the Senators also having never won an SBL championship and not appeared in a Grand Final since losing to the Perth Redbacks in 1990 they are looking to bring a banner back to Warwick Stadium against a Perry Lakes club used to success.
The Hawks last won a championship as recently as 2018 and have won six all up since the SBL started up in 1989.
With stars all over the floor on both teams, with a brilliant coaching match up and then two teams in hot form desperate to win, all signs point to quite the spectacle in the West Coast Classic Grand Final on Sunday night from 7pm between the Senators and Hawks.
What a remarkable array of talent both coaches have at their disposal as well for the Grand Final, but Mike Ellis and Matt Parsons have remarkable legacies of their own right.
Ellis was the inaugural championship winning captain of the Perth Wildcats and produced a remarkable playing career, and now as a coach he has thrown himself into trying to build the Senators into a powerhouse and is now on the verge of bringing them their first banner.
Meanwhile, Parsons is no stranger to SBL championships already having taken the Cockburn Cougars to the ultimate in 2016 and then doing the same at the Hawks in 2018. To add a third championship already to his impressive list of accomplishment would be a significant achievement.
Then you look at the remarkable playing groups. Starting at the Senators, Cody Ellis brings 150 games of NBL experience with him as their leader but is well supported by Caleb Davis, Justin King and Perth Wildcats championship winning point guard Corban Wroe.
Throw in current Wildcats star Wani Swaka Lo Buluk and important role players Jay Thwaites, Ash Litterick and Ngor Manyang topped off with 343-game veteran Tom Witts and teenagers Isaac Campion and Ethan Elliott, and there’s a lot to be excited about if you are the Senators.
The same can be said for the Hawks, though, and you have to admire the group they have played through the West Coast Classic with.
They are brilliantly led by veterans Ben Purser, Rob Cassir and Ryan Smith who have played a combined 739 SBL games, but the next tier of Cooper Hamilton, Bailey Cole, Mitch Clarke and Matthew Leary have taken the next step in 2020.
Then beneath them youngsters like Elijah Hayden, Nick Floyd, Harry Imison, Zach Cheir, Thomas Thorup, Adrian Nobensi, Rhys Hohenstein and even Keegan Phillips despite not qualifying for finals have shown exciting potential.
When you add it all up, it’s all pointing to a Grand Final that you won’t want to miss checking out on Sunday night.
Mike Ellis has now been coach at the Senators since 2016 and they’ve been knocking on the door of competing for a championship virtually every season.
They lost a tough quarter-final battle with Willetton in 2016, lost in three games in the first round to Geraldton a year later and then in 2018 broke through to the semi finals before losing to the Joondalup Wolves.
Then again last year they lost in three games to the eventual champion Buccaneers in the quarter finals so this has been a long time coming to be in a Grand Final for Ellis and the majority of this Senators team.
“It’s nice to be able to say we’re preparing for a Grand Final obviously and the big thing now is about our recovery, and how we recover. We are looking forward to playing Perry Lakes as well,” Ellis said.
“We played them in the first game of the season and that was the game we lost so I’d like to think we are playing a little better now as are they because in that first game we all had only had a couple of 50-minute training sessions as preparation and that was it.
“We’re not so rusty now so it should be a great Grand Final. We’ve had a massive rivalry with Perry Lakes for many, many years and I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Perry Lakes coach Matt Parsons knows all about getting his teams to SBL Grand Finals, and he is feeling as though this West Coast Classic decider means every bit as much.
“It means everything because at the end of the day the competition has been made up of the same 14 teams and now it’s a Grand Final, and you don’t get that opportunity to replicate that experience during the regular season or normal playoffs,” Parsons said.
“When you get there it comes with a completely different element no matter how much try to treat it as a normal game, but clubs will be as patriotic as they always have been.
“You don’t get to this point to say you’ve done a good job, you want to throw the kitchen sink at it and that’s who we are as people and competitors. We are going to have a crack at it now and really value the result if it goes our way.”
Even though the Hawks might have faced a full strength Wolves in the semi-final on Friday night, they still had to respond in the fourth quarter to their challenge before fulling away, and Parsons and his Perry Lakes team still took a lot out of that.
“We played Joondalup three or four weeks ago up on their deck and were up 10, and certainly they had a little bit more firepower on the floor, but momentum is a wonderful thing and they managed to get it back on their terms to run away with the game,” he said.
“We found ourselves in a very similar position then last night and they still had enough talent where if momentum really went their way they could have made it closer. But we were able to pull it back a bit and focus on the principles around our system.
“We found a couple of pressure release buckets in that and that made a big difference so we could use some good plays and get some good offence out of what we were doing.”
Looking at the Perry Lakes squad that he’s assembled for the West Coast Classic minus the two imports he would have had for the SBL if it went as scheduled along with Perth Wildcats NBL legend Shawn Redhage, pride doesn’t quite sum up just what Parsons feels.
“Proud’s probably an understatement too, it’s really unbelievable the growth we’ve seen from our playing group and the leadership shown by the three senior guys,” Parsons said.
“They would probably have the same level of pride in the group than the coaching staff and full credit to the club and Peter Barrell and those guys for what they do in developing coaches and the junior kids at Perry Lakes.
“That’s the part that has created the full community result and it’s not just felt in the men’s program. A couple of weeks ago we sat down and changed the goal posts, we had been taking it one week at a time and focusing on getting better, but as playoffs got closer and we saw there might be an opportunity to be in a strong position, we focused on that.
“We wanted to give this WCC the best possible crack and as a group made a commitment, and accepted the challenge in front of us. We are a hungry group and they are really hard players who give effort at every effort whether it’s training or whatever they’re doing.
“I think ultimately the recipe for success in a team environment is seeing juniors do well and when you can put yourself aside but be genuinely happy for younger guys or anybody else’s success in your team, then that’s the environment of successful teams.”
Parsons two SBL championships he won coaching at Cockburn and Perry Lakes both came with the Joondalup Wolves as opponents so now it’s a different looking Grand Final with the Senators up the other side of the court.
He knows that the Senators deserve to come in favourites but he’s hoping to use that to the Hawks’ advantage come Sunday night.
“They have won 13 straight games so they understand their systems and they’ve been running it for many years with Mike where he’s had a similar group and has just added in younger guys to complement the younger guys’ skill sets,” Parsons said.
“I think their window is open so anything but a championship for that group would be a disappointment if they don’t get it. They are primed and ready, and we know they’ll give it everything they’ve got.
“They have players that have played in front of huge crowds in the NBL and at college, and have responded in pressure situations. We really respect what Mike has done and their window is well and truly open.
“But it’s our job to come in with that underdog tag and try to disrupt them as much as possible, and see if we can get some momentum our way.”
WEST COAST CLASSIC 2020 – MEN
Warwick Senators v Perry Lakes Hawks – Bendat Basketball Centre 7pm