Straight Shot: Hey Judd, In the Words of INXS – Don’t Change a Thing

Photo credit: Render Creative NZ

The Wheeler Motor Company Canterbury Rams broke a three-decade championship drought last season to lift their first trophy since 1992. Sky Sport commentator Justin Nelson believes the Rams will contend again this year if they maintain a consistent approach.

You have to admire the Canterbury Rams. They play a great game of poker – cards close to their chest, little to no emotive reactions, a hard target to read with a settled and experienced coach leading the way. If I sat opposite Judd Flavell (coach) and Caleb Harrison (general manager) on a poker table, they would eat me alive. They come prepared, they are cunning and they always deliver blows respectfully but with a smile. I admire that.

The 2023 season was magical for the Rams, one for the ages, especially after a lucky escape against the Hawks in their play-in final. But it was done without fuss, clinical to the point of being sterile at times, or what some would call workmanlike. Yet all the while they entertained their fans, took them on a fun journey and ultimately delivered a most-savoured prize at the end of the ride. The value of the ticket was well worth it.

Judd Flavell should be called ‘Unflappable Favell’ as he continues to showcase his skills as one of New Zealand’s very best coaches. His work with the Rams last season was all class. Not that he needs to hear this from me again, but a number of Aussie NBL teams have missed a trick by not giving him a crack in the top chair. That will change at some point though, as he is too good to not get a chance.

From the outside looking in you would think it was a smooth season for the 2023 champs, but I can assure you that behind the scenes there were a few obstacles and personalities to deal with. Every team has an issue or a roadblock to look after during a sporting season, and the Rams were no different. However, as noted above, the outside world rarely sees a crack in the Rams’ armor.

Example - arguably the league’s best pure centre (Tai Wynyard) exited mid-season, yet the Rams took it in their stride, supported the opportunity provided to Tai, adapted their style of play and set about finding the right pieces to plug the gap. No fuss, leave the panic at the door, get on with the job.  

That said, and I hate to be the one to close down the party, but that was last year, and this is this year. Move on, there’s a new championship to play for. Can the Rams run it back?

Consistency is a proven model for the Rams, so I think their best chance at going back-to-back is to avoid big changes. Stay consistent, stick to a proven model. It starts with the players, and true to form the Rams have remained tight with Taylor Britt, Max Darling, Walter Brown, Kaia Isaac and Aiden Tonge all back in red and white this season.

The ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach is the right one. It’s Judd Flavell 101.

A new crop of imports are incoming, and though it’s the one area in recent years that has been anything but consistent for the Rams, they do manage to land on some good ones. When it counted most last season, we saw the best of Tevin Brown for example. Sublime and silky, Brown’s class rose to the top in the grand final. 

I was high on the Rams from the start of last season and tipped them to win it all, and though there were a couple of rough patches here and there, they always looked comfortable in their own skin, which I think is a good analogy for them.

Off the court, the Rams are a modern model of success. Since crashing and burning at the end of the 2008 season, we didn’t see the Rams again until 2014, but over the last decade they have arguably become the franchise every other team looks to as business leaders. A thriving academy, a great fan base and fun game night entertainment are all part of the success.

The Rams are admired in the community and work hard to make sure their fans are valued, included and at the centre of all decisions. They know the business they are in, and they play to it. Clever.

 And now it is showing on court where Flavell, in his regimented yet personable way, is the ultimate professional driving the Rams bus. What I really like about Judd, and appreciate, is he shares a wider view of the game, he embraces growth and understands the need to innovate and change. He values the fan, the viewer and the sponsor. He knows the business we are in isn’t only about performance on the court, it’s also about performance off the court. And not just as a team, but also as a league.

Clearly these are the same attributes that helped lead the Rams to last year’s title. Adaption and meeting every challenge in an unflappable style.

Of course, things do need to be tinkered with from season to season, that’s the only way to keep raising the bar, but for the Rams to run it back I think they need to bottle what they did in 2023 and pour some of that magic over their 20204 season.

Please don’t change too much in the kitchen Judd because last year’s recipe tasted fantastic. 



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