Straight Shot: Nuggets Searching for that Wildcat Flavour

Photo credit: Joe Allison

The Night n' Day Otago Nuggets have been a force since returning to the Sal’s NBL in 2020 and Sky Sport and in the final edition of the commentator Justin Nelson's Straight Shot he shares his belief that it’s the link with the Perth Wildcats that could keep the Otago Nuggets recent golden run going strong.

Look at the Night n' Day Otago Nuggets operation today and it’s hard to believe this team laid dormant for the better part of five years prior to their memorable 2020 Showdown heroics.

It’s a long story to tell now, but the Nuggets were one of two teams (the other was fellow Showdown grand finalist, Property Broker Manawatū Jets) to head into the Showdown draft without knowing who they would pick with their first three selections. 

While the majority of teams went out and secured agreements to ringfence players, the Nuggets went the other way selecting Jordan Ngatai, Jarrod Kenny and Jordan Hunt together with live picks. A master move and one that paid off in the biggest way. Hello silverware.

The Nuggets look settled these days, but they are yet another team that has come and gone from the national league, twice.

Sadly, this is a competition with a past that is littered with too may woes as teams battled to maintain financial pace with those splashing the cash.

Little do people know, and maybe I’m letting a little secret out here, but even in the organisation’s best efforts off the back of the trophy-winning run at the 2020 Showdown, stepping back on court in 2021 hung in the balance just weeks before the new season started as commercial partners were proving tough to find.

However, through a lot of hard work by general manager Angela Ruske, partners were found, and the Nuggets pressed on.

At the end of 2021 Australia’s Sports Entertainment Group (SEG) made some enquiries, liked what they were seeing from New Zealand’s reinvigorated national league and took ownership of the Nuggets.

Success soon followed when the Nuggets scooped the 2022 Sal's NBL championship thanks to an awesome run at the Final 6, sending a message to opposition teams that the once-struggling Nuggets had truly returned to the big stage as perennial contenders. 

Team owner SEG also own the Perth Wildcats and three elite women’s teams including the Southern Hoiho in the GJ Gardner Homes Tauihi. A busy organisation when you take in the size of their media business and dealings across radio and digital.

Strategically, it’s the union of the Perth Wildcats in Australia and the Nuggets in New Zealand that I think sets SEG apart from the rest. It’s a proven formula, as evidenced by the ’22 Sal's NBL silverware.

But I do think there is more to come. This goose laying the golden eggs is just warming up. Could there be another one to come in 2024? Maybe. 

When the Nuggets hit the floor this week they will feature Tai Webster, Jack Andrew and Dontae Russo-Nance, all Kiwis and all contracted to the Wildcats. I would venture a guess that some gentle pressure was also applied to Hyrum Harris before he signed with the Saints. 

Add to that haul of Kiwi-talent young Aussie hotshot Ben Henshall. Mark my words, this kid can seriously play. I have him pegged as my choice for Youth Player of the Year.

What SEG has created with the Wildcats and Nuggets isn’t a new thing, just look at what Manchester City does the world over.

In our neck of the woods the Nuggets provide the perfect feeder for the Wildcats, a place to stash players or even get a look at them before making a decision on a contract in the ANBL.

The Sal’s NBL is decidedly better level league than the tiers that sit below the ANBL in Australia, and the Wildcats (SEG) have recognised this. Clever.

Though the Wildcats recently exited the ANBL semi finals, there continues to be more than enough evidence to suggest the ongoing success of the franchise is exactly what the Nuggets want, and need.

Make no mistake, the Wildcats basketball division is heavily involved with the Nuggets.

I’m surprised more ANBL teams haven’t followed the move of the Wildcats (SEG), but that could be just around the corner. Not only good for player recruitment and retention, but also the perfect way to operate a sports business 365 days of the year.

Commercially, SEG are astute operators, and I can see the silver lining they have firmly set in their vision. I believe the Nuggets are a part of that.

If the Nuggets are to win the Sal’s NBL this year they will need a sprinkling of that Wildcats magic that was used so liberally over the past decade, and hopefully it will start with Andrew, Webster, Russo-Nance and Henshall showing the benefits of playing hoops together year-round.

I'm not convinced this Nuggets team is as strong as previous years, but they proved me wrong last season when I tipped them to miss the Final 6.

Stupidly, I haven't learnt a lesson and I have them finishing seventh this season. Yes, I know, fool me twice, shame on me.

But if the Nuggets do make the Final 6 you can be assured it will have the fingerprints of the Wildcats organisation all over it.


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