Justin Nelson’s Burning Questions – Round 15

Photo credit: Blake Armstrong

Should we be worried about the Tuatara after two straight losses heading into the Final 6?

No, not really. This is a team loaded with talent and experience and while losses to both the Hawks and Saints aren’t what you want ahead of the playoffs, both opponents had a fair bit riding on those games as they scrambled to make the Final 6. From here the Tuatara need to win just one game to make the Grand Final, but we don’t know who they will play. S

cheduled for Friday night, the Tuatara will play the lowest-ranked loser from Thursday’s elimination finals – Rams (3) versus Hawks (6) and Bulls (4) versus Saints (5). In the other semi-final, the Nuggets will play the highest-ranked winner on Saturday night. I think the Tuatara are right where they need to be, they are the top seed for a reason, and they look fit and healthy. Write them off at your own peril.

Why did Corey Webster only play two seconds for the Rams?

To qualify for finals in the Sal’s NBL a player has to play in five games and playing means stepping on court and registering time in the game. Going into last Friday night’s game against the Bulls, the Rams came out publicly and said Webster was carrying an injury (undisclosed) and wouldn’t play more than a bare minimum as he had only previously played in four games. Hence why we saw an immediate foul after the opening tip between the Rams and Bulls, and Webster was subsequently immediately taken out of the game. From all reports, the Kiwi star guard will be ready to go for the Final 6.

How good was Jordan Ngatai’s performance against the Jets?

In terms of individual performances (points total), it’s the best I’ve seen in my five seasons. Needing to win to lock-in a spot at the Final 6, the Hawks powered away from the Jets in the second half thanks to Ngatai’s superb shooting, landing eight triples on his way to a League season-high and a career-best 47 points. Best of all for Ngatai, it comes at a time when Tall Blacks coach Pero Cameron is busy going through his planning for the World Cup. Fair to say Jordan did his chances of making the World Cup team no harm at all.

Who goes into the Final 6 as favourites?

Tough question. Interestingly the Rams, Hawks and Saints all go in with winning form, having won their R15 games, while the Tuatara, Nuggets and Bulls all go in coming off a loss – and they were the three teams most people were talking about (as the teams to beat) prior to R15. As we saw last season, absolutely anything can happen at the Final 6 and rankings going in aren’t the be all and end all.

Personally, I think the Nuggets start favourites, more so out of gaining experience last year more than anything else. Sam Timmins, Todd Withers, Nikau McCullough, Robbie Coman, Matthew Bardsley, Darcy Knox, Brent Matehaere, plus some of the younger guys, and the administration, all have the runs on the board after winning the championship last season and they will be well prepared to tackle the job again. I really like both the Rams and Tuatara who are both loaded with experience and talent, but I am a bit concerned about the Bulls up against the gung-ho Saints in what will be a straight-out defence (Bulls) versus offence (Saints) clash. The Bulls are a hard-working unit with a very clever architect (Sokolovsky) at the helm, so I’m certainly not writing them off, but they will need to contain the Saints’ thirst for flat-out scoring.

I’m expecting the Bulls and Saints game to be the most physical and bruising contest of the Final 6, it looks like a brutal match-up. And while I don’t want to write the Hawks off, they do need to do it from the toughest seed, which might prove a mountain too high to climb. But hey, once again, anything can happen.

How close were the Sky Sport commentators with their pre-season predictions?

To be fair – not too bad. Andrew Mulligan was a perfect 6 from 6 in his Final 6 predictions (the only one of us to do so) when he went with Bulls, Tuatara, Saints, Rams, Nuggets and Hawks before the opening round tipped off back in April. And Mulls has the Bulls to win it all, so stay tuned on that one, but it looks like he will miss on Sam Timmins as his MVP winner. Brook Ruscoe went with the Saints, Hawks, Tuatara, Giants, Nuggets and Bulls – missing with the Giants while leaving the Rams out. He went with the Tuatara as champions and Reuben Te Rangi for MVP, both still very much in contention.

Casey Frank went with Tuatara, Saints, Hawks, Bulls, Rams and Sharks – clearly missing with the southerners, while he left out the 2022 championship-winning Nuggets. For MVP he went with Hyrum Harris (Hawks) and had the Hawks as champions – Harris is a miss, but the Hawks are still in the championship hunt. Huw Beynon went with the Tuatara, Saints, Rams, Hawks, Giants and Nuggets – a miss with his beloved Giants, while leaving the Bulls out. He’s gone with Reuben Te Rangi to win the MVP and the Saints to win the title. For me, I went with the Rams, Saints, Bulls, Airs, Tuatara and Hawks to make the Final 6 – like Casey, a big miss on the Nuggets, and while the Airs didn’t make it, they were the best of the rest. Tevin Brown was my pick for MVP and is in contention, while for the championship I went with the Rams, who are also still in the fight.


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