After a loooong wait, we’re back! The Sal’s NBL gets underway tonight at the Trafalgar Centre in Nelson when the Giants take on the Nuggets.
The first two or three rounds will contain some hard-to-pick matchups as some imports, ANBL/College based Kiwi players, and coaches are filtering back into the country. In the meantime, we’ll see the return of our teams to full arenas and expectant fans in what’s shaping up to be one of the closest Sal’s NBL seasons in history.
You can catch every game on Sky Sport, so let’s take a look at the Round 1 matchups…
Nelson Giants vs Otago Nuggets
7.30pm Thu 28 April, Trafalgar Centre, Nelson
The first game of the NBL season sees the new-look Giants (literally, they’ve got a new logo and brand) taking on the Nuggets at home in a clash of southern teams. Although Otago will be without their high-profile import trio for this one, they’ll have new signing Nikau McCullough, Sam Timmins and plenty of other home-grown talent on hand to face Nelson – who will roll out their imposing duo of Americans Trey Mourning and Jarrod West, alongside veteran captain Sam Dempster and up-and-coming defensive guard Alex McNaught.
Southland Sharks vs Wellington Saints
7.30pm Fri 29 April, ILT Stadium Southland, Invercargill
Defending champs the Saints head to the deep south to challenge the Sharks on their home turf. Wellington has bought back a squad of high flying Wellingtonians including Kenneth Tuffin, Tom Vodanovich and Jordan Ngatai, alongside young Tall Black Taane Samuel. However, with their Aussie NBL group not expected home until round 2, the Saints will rely on youth in round one against a Southland squad led by veteran Alonzo Burton, Tall Black Dom Kelman-Poto and Brayden Inger and the imposing 7’2” former Saints Romaro Gill. Rumours are that Mojave King could make his debut for the Sharks in this game too.
Canterbury Rams vs Otago Nuggets
5.30pm Sat 30 April, Cowles Stadium, Christchurch
The second southern clash this round sees the Rams welcoming the Nuggets to Cowles Stadium for their first game of the season. Canterbury a solid guard trip of import Sunday Dech, captain Taylor Britt and Joe Cook-Green, but will be without the athletic Max Darling until his season in Europe is over. They’ll take on an Otago team playing their second game in three nights, with Timmins and teammates Nikau McCullough and Josh Aitcheson more than up to the task.
Auckland Tuatara vs Taranaki Airs
7.30pm Sat 30 April, EventFinda Stadium, Auckland
New kids on the block Auckland Tuatara play their first match in the NBL, at home against the visiting Taranaki Airs – led by the Tall Blacks duo of Tai Wynyard and Richard Rodger, alongside youngsters Carlin Davison and Haize Walker. Auckland will roll out an imposing frontline with Tall Blacks vet Rob Loe, Dan Fotu and import Chris Johnson, alongside a pair of talented youngsters in Taki Fahrensohn and Dontae Russo-Nance, making this a must-watch game, free-to-air on Prime, on a Saturday night.
Hawkes Bay Hawks vs Franklin Bulls
3pm Sun 1 May, Pettigrew Green Arena, Napier
The Hawks are stacked with Kiwi talent this season, with veterans Jarrod Kenny, Ethan Rusbatch, Everard Bartlett and Derone Raukawa in the line-up, along with imposing centre Jack Salt and defensive ace Hyrum Harris (Harris is expected to be back from ANBL duty for Round 3). They’ll face off against another team with some big names on their roster in Isaac Davidson and Jayden Bezzant, and veteran presence Leon Henry (Corey Webster joins the Bulls when his duties in Egypt are complete). Expect plenty of fireworks from both sides in this bruising encounter.
Manawatu Jets vs Taranaki Airs
5pm Sun 1 May, The Ballroom, Manawatu
It might be a development year for the Jets and their young, talented team, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be competitive - thanks to the likes of new signing Pafe Momoisea and rising big man Shane Temara. They’ll host Tai Wynyard’s Taranaki Airs squad, who will be playing their second game in as many nights after taking on the Tuatara the previous night. Expect this match to feature plenty of home-grown kiwi basketball talent on display for both sides, plus a bit of neighbourly provincial rivalry.