Straight Shot: The Tuatara Need the Fab Five to Deliver the Goods

Photo credit: Giles Stepney

Over the years plenty of teams have burst onto the sporting stage seeking instant glory, and sadly many have left via the side exit after trying to load up for a championship. Sky Sport commentator Justin Nelson believes the Auckland Tuatara are different, they’re in for the long haul and a championship awaits, but to reach that goal they must do one thing above all others.

There is often a feeling among a team when they lose a Grand Final that they will be back for another shot the following year.

For many teams, that next shot can take years to arrive again, if ever. For the Tuatara, after losing in the 2022 big dance, their next chance did come a year later, alas, they lost again.

A new year brings fresh hope, and with a star-studded starting unit the Tuatara will rightly feel confident they can dust off their tuxedos and return for a third successive shot at the crown.

Corey Webster, Reuben Te Rangi, Cam Gliddon, Tom Vodanovich and Rob Loe form a respected unit every other team would be envious of.

Tuatara management have been quick, and incredibly transparent, in publicly stating the fab five have taken less than market rate in order to play alongside each other.

In other words, on their behalf, the Tuatara have announced these elite guys left money on the table elsewhere because they want to hoop with each other.

Admirable, I respect it, plenty of others would chase the coin.

But with such a star-studded line-up comes the pressure of winning. Notably, this handful would likely have taken a stumbling SEM Phoenix to task down the stretch in the Aussie NBL and towelled them up.

Loe is the star, Tommy V is the muscle, Webster the showman, and Te Rangi and Gliddon bring the silk.

The more this group plays together, the better they will be. Instincts and experience will come to the fore.

However, there is a danger that comes with the plan of investing heavily in a star five - and I say this without disrespecting the second unit - but injuries to any of the starters could derail this mission.

Just on that second unit, I actually think they will go very close to winning the Sky Broadband Rapid League. Built around the experience of Chris McIntosh, Reuben Fitzgerald and Nick Barrow but with a generous sprinkling of young developing talent, this will be a fun crew to watch.

But back to the fab five. We don’t wish injuries upon any player, but save Tommy V (28 years old) and Te Rangi (29), this crew are on the wrong side of 30 and wear the battle scars that come with that experience like medals.

If the Tuatara want to return to the big dance their stars must do the tango all season long, and they must be healthy and primed for the biggest dance floor at season’s end.

Webster lurks as the worry for me. The guy is an entertainer, a star in every sense, we know that but over the last year or two his battle-hardened, yet weary body has been sending him messages.

I will be pleasantly surprised if Corey can suit-up in every game. Even a short stint at the Rams last season was plagued with injuries, yet like the classy warrior he is, the mercurial one did rise when it counted.

That said, his recent stint with the Perth Wildcats has been anything but regulation, whether his reduced role was only injury related or not is unknown to me.

On the upside, Gliddon must feel the freshest he has in a decade. I love watching the Aussie sharpshooter do his thing, but it seems the Breakers were more inclined to let him see out his days as a locker room guy. Only my opinion, but we should have seen more of him through the recent ANBL season given the way he took advantage of opportunity on the rare occasions it came his way.

Loe should also feel fresh and ready to build on his 2023 MVP status, Te Rangi will dominate at both ends and Tommy V is one of my favourite players to commentate - his aggression and fire is trademark stuff. He’ll bring that plus more playing alongside Loe.

But let’s put a full-stop on this. Injuries to any of these five will make the championship dream incredibly tough.

While they are the best starting unit on paper, any absences will eat into the Tuatara’s ability to chalk up wins as consistently as they did over the past two seasons. 

The Tuatara look set to be a force in the Sal’s NBL for years to come, however they will be growing tired of being the bridesmaids and will desperately want the silverware in 2024.

Simple equation - stay healthy and they are the team to beat, only then will the lighter pay packets for the fab five have been worth it.


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