Straight Shot: Have the Hawks Outsmarted Us All?

Photo credit: Roshysportfolio

The Hawke's Bay Taylor Hawks have been chasing an elusive Sal’s NBL championship since their only taste of glory back in 2006, that’s nearly 20 years, but seemingly this is a franchise that has fallen short way too often. The Hawks’ free agency period for season 2024 has been filled with rumoured bust-ups, player raids and slow progress on their own player signings. However, Sky Sport commentator Justin Nelson thinks the Hawks may have outsmarted us all and shares why in a new regularly occurring segment we're calling Straight Shot.

All too often in sport our memories elude us, we quickly forget the past in our thirst to focus on the here and now, especially if the past has more downs than ups. But the past is always there, lurking and bringing forward emotions as we glance back over our shoulder. For Hawke’s Bay Hawks fans, unfortunately the rearview mirror has a few too many cracks in it.

For example, did you know the Hawks have one of the worst grand final records in the Sal’s NBL? Eight grand final appearances have yielded just one victory, a championship back in 2006 from a team featuring Hawke’s Bay legends Pāora Winitana and Paul Henare.

On the downside, the 2019 loss to the Saints was a shocker as then Hawks coach Zico Coronel saw his side capitulate from a 21-point lead with 13 minutes to play as the Saints stormed to another title, winning 78-68, closing the game out with a 38-9 run that left the Hawks in a pile of feathers.

And of course, who can forget the closing play in regulation time of last year’s play-in final against eventual champs the Rams when the Hawks were denied the chance to advance after a missed basket interference call that altered the championship landscape. It was equally painful and infuriating for a fan base that had been waiting 15 years to bathe in championship glory once again.

Most would see the months since their contentious exit in 2023 as being unstable. Hyrum Harris (Saints), Ethan Rusbatch (Bulls) and Jordan Hunt (Bulls) while Derone Raukawa is looking for a new home. And let’s not forget the exit of coach Everard Bartlett, his three-year contract cut short after just one season. Ouch!

Off the court, chair of the board Keith Price has also left the scene, stepping down after a reign that included a rapid escalation in commercial support. A job well done.

Whispers around the league have the Hawks taking a step back, but perhaps a broom was needed, and these sweeping changes are all a part of a bigger plan. Maybe the Hawks are a step ahead and have outsmarted everyone else. So many changes, however, one of my favourite sayings immediately comes to mind … change equals opportunity!

With general manager Jarrod Kenny starting to settle into his role off the court, I honestly think the Hawks are going through the re-build they needed to have. They are changing the model, being bold and courageous with an eye on the future.

Over the last five years (save for the 2020 Showdown when the Hawks snoozed away in their nest), you could confidently say the Hawks have gone big – invested heavily and gone all in to win a championship – and as we know, the trophy cabinet hasn’t expanded indicating the quest for bling hasn’t worked.

Despite making the Final 6 last year, at times the mix of players just wasn’t working, there seemed to be a divide between some players and the coach, and a miserable run of home losses pointed to a very experienced team unable to call on that experience and collectively rise when needed.

While I have no idea if Kenny will play on in 2024 (he says he isn’t), I can assure Hawks fans that every dealing I have had with JK off the court makes me believe the Kiwi champ is well on his way to being a very good leader and administrator. I rate Kenny highly and similar to his playing career he has a calm demeanor and is open to learning from those around him.

Would Hawks fans have liked a couple more big player signatures during free agency? Yes, of course, but I like the addition of coach Sam Gruggen, plus Jordan Ngatai returns to lead the way on court. The recruitment of Americans Isaiah Moore (guard) and Josh Roberts (centre) look good, the signing of Aussie-based Kiwi Keanu Rasmussen is clever and slipped under the radar of opposition teams, while teenager Jackson Ball is a legitimate rising star.

With an import still to sign, and maybe an opportunity to take a flyer on Tanne Samuel, who I believe could really thrive if he can knuckle down in a new city, the Hawks look to be competitive while starting a journey on a new path.

For full transparency, I won’t have the Hawks in my Final 6 predictions, it’s their depth that worries me, but I do think in 2025 or 2026 we will be talking about an organisation that is back in contention following a calculated reboot and rebuild by a rising GM, his new board, and a talented coach.

Doom and gloom in Hawke’s Bay? Nope! I’m going with a glass half-full attitude.


Form is temporarily not available. Please visit our contact page.