Burning Questions For All 10 Teams Ahead of the 2023 Season

Each week during the Sal’s NBL season, we’ll clear the decks and drop the burning questions. What better way to start than with a preview of season 2023 and the burning question for all 10 teams.



Can the Airs back up their successful run in 2022 and finally deliver their growing fan base a championship?

What a season it was for the Airs in 2022. Huge crowds, a top-of-the-ladder finish, a gameplan played at lightening quick speed, dunks galore, and a finals run that brought joy, and unfortunately some tears. Hilliard returns, Rissetto replaces Wynyard, Richie Rodger continues to rise, and two new imports (Armon Fletcher & David Azore) look the goods. It all leads to the Airs being a genuine threat once again. To back up the success of ‘22 the Airs will again need their star shooter Hilliard to deliver, but overall their fortunes might rest on Anzac Rissetto and his ability to rise a level after a debut stint in the Aussie NBL with the Phoenix. No sign of Carlin Davison (United States) yet, while Marcel Jones will play an important role as always with a nightly double-double on the cards. So, can they deliver a championship? Put it this way … write the Airs off at your own peril.


Can the Bulls finally walk the talk in 2023 and make the Final 6?

They may not like hearing this, but the Bulls have been perennial under-deliverers since joining the Sal’s NBL. Put aside a fleeting semi-finals appearance at the 2020 Showdown, the results over the last two seasons haven’t matched the ambition. With a 2023 roster boasting the likes of Dan Fotu, Jayden Bezzant, Isaac Davidson and imports Rickey McGill and Jamaal Brantley, the Bulls have a starting unit that could well be the best on court this season. And don’t be surprised if we see Dom Kelman-Poto doing his thing at the Stockyard this season. It remains to be seen if the reserves will be at the appropriate level needed to win silverware, but this is a region that doesn’t lack rising talent. Four coaches in four seasons perhaps points to a lack of stability, or maybe it’s simply circumstance and recognition that better results are needed, but either way it’s time the Bulls rewarded their fans with finals and this looks like a team that can do that.


Can the Giants overcome a disrupted pre-season and return to the Final 6 again?

A troublesome pre-season for the Giants has slipped through to the keeper with barely a public mention, pointing to good management by the back office. It’s not that training hasn’t been top notch, it always is under coach Mike Fitchett, but rather it is their search for imports that has proven to be bumpy. An amazing run last season came as a result of Coach Fitchett almost perfectly matching West, Mourning and Thompson with Nelson’s renowned loyal locals, led by the ever-impressive Sammy Dempster. However, some on-again-off-again international signings in recent weeks has left the Giants scouring the globe for the right import mix. Make no mistake, Coach Fitchett will find some gems, he always does, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Giants get off to a slow start as they work hard to gel over the opening few weeks, with or without imports. But remember, it’s a long race and the Saints last season proved that a slow start (if it happens) can be turned around. As for the Final 6 … well, if quality imports arrive, plus the return from injury of Tom Ingham, there is no doubt the Giants can return to the Final 6.


Can the Hawks finally grab some silverware?

In 2019, 2021 and 2022 the Hawks had a team capable of going all the way, they were a formidable unit, but the mountain wasn’t conquered and we were left wondering whether or not one of the League’s most talented rosters had missed prime opportunities to grab a championship, or two? Roll on 2023 and again the Hawks appear to be stacked - Harris, Rusbatch, Raukawa, Ngatai, Hunt, Kenny and Brooke - it’s a quality Kiwi line-up that will take some stopping. And early signs are it will again be an all-Kiwi team, which comes with plenty of admirers. If this group can stay injury free they can certainly go all the way, but an injury or two will almost certainly derail those aspirations. Staying healthy is the name of the game for the Hawks this season. The core must stay on court if that trophy is going to finally land in ‘The Bay’.


Will we see the Jets finally take flight and move up the ladder?

The Jets present as one of the most intriguing teams in 2023. Despite holding up the ladder last season, off the court there was a dramatic shift in Palmerston North. Backed by new ownership and with new coach Natu Taufale focused on culture, process and structure, there was a lot to like about what was taking place off the court. And, credit where credit is due, we also got to see signs of rapid improvement on the court, it was just the consistency that proved problematic. ‘Project Take-Off’ is gathering momentum and some solid incoming imports mixed with an incredibly young, yet talented, group of rising talent is likely to push the Jets from Final 6 pretenders to contenders. Any team sleeping on the Jets this season might well find themselves on the wrong end of a result. To be fair, if the Jets do make the finals this season it might be a year ahead of plan, but with vastly improved structures, a fantastic community programme and a rapidly advancing culture, success will come to the Green Army. Is 2023 too early? We’re about to find out.


Can the Nuggets create a dynasty and win a third trophy in four years?

Let’s start by asking a separate question - did anyone tip the Nuggets to win last year’s championship prior to the season starting? Come on, be honest. Did you? Off the back of winning the 2020 Showdown, the Nuggets have been incredibly consistent, and when a title was there to be won last season the Nuggets hit form and rose to the occasion. Their Final 6 run was exhilarating, and that championship game was sublime. A pleasure to watch.  And now, Slammin’ Sam Timmins and his crew are the hunted. With lots of familiar faces returning, including one of the League’s best two-way players in Todd Withers, the Nuggets will need to handle plenty of heat if they hope to do it all again, but you sense this is a team with a coach that loves a challenge. Whether or not the Nuggets can grab another title remains to be seen, but one thing you can be assured of is the Nuggets will deservedly get a lot more respect in 2023.


Are the Rams pretenders or contender?

It’s a harsh question, but most would say it’s a fair question. For whatever reason the Rams haven’t lived up to expectations in recent years, especially when you look at the talent they’ve had on court. With sold-out crowds a near certainty in Christchurch these days, the Rams faithful want finals action and based on what we know right now this looks a unit that will definitely contend for the championship. While we know what we’ll get from the likes of Britt, Darling and a rising Walter Brown, it’s the imports who need to fit in seamlessly and deliver on expectations if this team hopes to go all the way. Tevin Brown looks a great get - watch him closely. And did we mention Tai Wynyard? There’s a feeling that the pretender tag is in the rear-view mirror. This Rams unit is legit and must break the shackles and give their fans what they crave – a championship. 


Will the Saints get off to a better start this season?

Even though they sprinted down the stretch to the Final 6 last season, a slow start due to the late arrival of key players had the Saints battling to stay off the bottom of the ladder for long periods. While it was a known path (players coming in late), it was painful to watch and it didn’t come without consequence as the Saints let go of a quality coach. That said, it’s hard seeing the League’s most successful organisation getting off to a slow start again. Familiar faces abound with Vodanovich, Smith-Milner, Samuel and Tuffin in blue, while winning the battle for Kyle Adnam’s signature against at least three other teams was a master stroke. So, will the Saints start better this season? You better believe they will … look out – the Saints are up and marching again.


Was last season just a bump in the road or will the Sharks be making up the numbers again this season?

Surely last season was hiccup for the Sharks, wasn’t it? The perennial finalists, by their own admission, performed well below an acceptable level in 2022. It didn’t help that Coach Beveridge suffered a terrible fall at home, and of course the continued absence of Alex Pledger through illness was well documented, while the import mix just didn’t work and arguably created more headaches than positives. However, a new year brings fresh opportunities and the first win for the Sharks was snapping up new coach Guy Molloy, who took a bullet midway through season 2022 for the under-performing Saints. So, how about 2023, will the Sharks rediscover their bite? Bringing in the experience of Jeremy Kendle is a smart move and it’s been good to see Zo Burton and Brayden Inger openly declaring they have a large chip on the respective shoulders after last year’s failings. By the look of it there’ll be no Dom Kelman-Poto, but excitingly all eyes will be on Dru-Leo Leusogi-Ape who looms as the League’s leading breakout candidate. The Sharks will be in the mix in what should be a tough race to make the Final 6, but they will need a lot to go right for that to happen.


No Chris Johnson, no problem, or …?

The Tuatara went within a whisker of delivering a championship to their new and growing fan base last season. Now, seven months on, the Tuatara will aim to go one better, but will do so without star forward Chris Johnson who has a clash with commitments in the USA (unless the Tuatara can convince him otherwise). Strong recruiting has landed import Aussies Cam Gliddon (an All Star 5 last time he played in NZ) and Jarrad Weeks, marking arguably the most experienced guard combos in the League, while Rob Loe presents as a big presence that most teams struggle to contain. Loe looks set for a massive season – mark it down right now that he’ll be amongst the list of MVP candidates. Oh, and let's not forget Reuben Te Rangi, perhaps the best off-season signing of any team, Kiwi or import. Te Rangi is a jet and will relish his chance to be back home in a World Cup year. If the Tuatara can find another quality forward to play alongside Loe, just as Johnson did, then we are definitely looking at a team that won’t dwell for too long on not having CJ on court. BTW – they do have an import spot up their sleeve.


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