Burning Questions: Behind the Mic Roundtable #2

Photo credit: Giles Stepney

In the Sal's NBL it is all about how you start the season. Getting out of the blocks with speed can cement a post-season appearance early while a slow start means chasing victories down the stretch to even get an invite to the Final 6. In a competition that is expected to as tight as ever a strong start to the season is key. Today we ask our crew of Sky Sport commentators which teams are built to sprint and which might be playing a bit of catch up.

Based on current rosters which team do you expect to get off to a strong start?

Andrew Mulligan - The Tuatara and Rams. Anytime you keep a core of five or six players in this league you’re at a distinct advantage and these two teams have built the rosters so far to instill fear for the rest of the league. The Airs were really good two seasons ago but they rolled the dice too late in the season last year to make a run. They are my dark horse here.

Maia Williamson - The Taranaki Airs look promising. Tobias Cameron and Carlin Davison are both on an upward trajectory right now, and I don't imagine that's going to stop. The acquisition of Flynn Cameron, Mitch McCarron and Sam Froling has rounded their line-up nicely. Having a new coach allows this team a fresh start and I think their new-look roster as well as their ambition to improve on last year will push them to come out with all guns blazing. 

Brook Ruscoe - I've got the Wellington Saints, and I'm not being a homer. Coach Zico is back in the 04 and will have the boys ready to go right from game 1. With the just signed Izayah Le'afa onboard from the jump I think they have what it takes to come together to get off to a strong start unlike the last couple of years

Huw Beynon - As you may have been able to tell from the last roundtable I expect the Tuatara to get off to a strong start. With Rob Loe, Reuben Te Rangi, Cam Gliddon, Cory Webster and Tommy V all healthy I think a strong middle and end might be joining that start to the season as well.

Justin Nelson - I really like the Tuatara and Rams as they are both returning lots of players from 2023, which helps early in the season. The Whai also have a chance to catch a few napping if their imports (with just Phillip Carr named of the three so far) are of the required standard and ready to play from the opening round.

Casey Frank - It looks like the Tuatara and Rams are set for nice starts, two teams with great roster continuity coming off deep postseason runs, but I'll try to fish a little deeper and go with the Sharks, who have a favourable set of fixtures when it comes to travel and double headers in the first couple of rounds before coming up against the Saints, Tuatara, Whai and Rams for a tough stretch. if they can pick of 2 or 3 out of those four they will be feeling pretty good about themselves and likely in great position for the rest of the season. 

Based on current rosters which team do you expect to get off to a slow start?

AM - The Whai unfortunately, but only because being new is tough. Hard to establish an identity on and off the court early on but I’m looking forward to their efforts when they hit the second half of the season. 

MW - Possibly the Hawks. Currently their line up is quite young, so despite their talent in terms of their imports and Jordan Ngatai, the young guns might have some time adjusting to the level of the Sal's NBL. That's not to say they aren't capable, but the NBL is a step up from any local or national junior boys tournaments in terms of pace, physicality and speed of decision making so that could take some adjusting.

BR - The Hawks but I do think they’ll find their feet eventually but not from the jump. Just the omission of some of their stars from previous seasons might hurt them over the first few rounds as they find their chemistry as an almost completely new squad under a new coach.

HB - Traditionally we've seen teams that are reliant on imports, or players returning home from overseas, have the slower starts. The Sharks could be one of those teams this season. Brayden Inger coming from the UK, three imports as well as a new recruit in Callum McRae. It's a nice squad, but could take a little time to gel. The Airs have most of their (stacked) squad coming from the Australian NBL, so again it could take some time to all click... but boy, when it does... look out!

JN - My eyes are firmly on the Jets. Some changes late in the pre-season aren’t helpful. An opening round clash against the new-look Airs will tell us a bit, but it’s the trip south in Round 2 to play the Sharks and Nuggets that will immediately show us what the green machine is made of.

CF - Getting off to a slow start normally comes down to two things, not being fully prepped and having a tough schedule with few home games so I'm gonna lean to two teams, the Whai and the Jets. The Whai as they are a first year team that will have little familiarity with each other or the style they want to play with first year coach Matt Lacey but that is balanced out by having just 2 games on the road through the first 6 rounds. Looking at the Jets they open at home to what will be a tough Taranaki squad before heading on the road for 3 of their next 4 games  before finishing that stretch with a home fixture against an early title favourite in the Tuatara. Not an easy task regardless of the makeup of the roster.


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