Straight Shot: Time for the Airs to Dream Big

Photo credit: Andy Macdonald

The Taranaki Steelformers Airs  journey through the Sal's NBL has been littered with more downs than ups, but all of that can change this season according to Sky Sport commentator Justin Nelson who is all in on the Airs and believes the time is now for them to finally scale the championship mountain.

Do yourself a favour and read up on the Taranaki Airs on Wikipedia – it’s a fascinating story that covers a journey stretching back to 1985. If you don't love riding rollercoasters then you better strap yourself in for a ride with the Airs – it’s a real stomach dropper. 

Over that near 40-year stretch, today’s Airs have been known as the New Plymouth Bulls, New Plymouth Bears, Taranaki Bears, Taranaki Oilers, Taranaki Mountain Airs (twice), Taranaki Dynamos, and today’s Taranaki Airs. A fascinating story.

As far as championship droughts go in the Sal’s NBL, the dust bowl swirling around inside the trophy cabinet at TSB Stadium is not something incoming Aussie coach Sam Mackinnon will be thrilled to look at. It’s dustier than a dingo’s den in the outback.

And while the Airs having never won a championship is gloomy enough, it’s a bigger blow when you consider they have never even made a Sal’s NBL grand final. Ouch!

The dream of realising a championship was so tantalisingly close in 2022 when the Airs finished the regular season on top of the ladder, but they somehow coughed up what looked to have been an insurmountable lead in a semi-final against Auckland and lost the game. Another painful chapter added to the story. 

That 2022 minor premiership was just their second, the last coming way back in 1992.

The battle to financially keep the door open and the business ticking over has also been cumbersome. For far too long, and far too many times, the Airs have scampered from season to season, often faced with a deficit on the balance sheet at season’s end and the pressure of quickly trying to make ends meet.

But the tide looks to have turned, through some astute appointments of recent general managers (Mitch Langton / Cole Brown), plus the recent acquisition of the franchise by Australian-based group, Media 8, there is a growing feeling someone might need to try and find the key to that dusty old trophy cabinet sooner rather than later.

The Airs claimed the Westside Blitz last week and did so without star import Sam Froling, import Elijah Minnie and rising Tall Black Flynn Cameron who currently has unfinished business in the Australian NBL with Melbourne United. That’s three starters there. Hello blue skies.

It will be interesting to see if coach Mackinnon tempers his enthusiasm and tries to keep a lid on it all, or will the brashness of another Australian entering NZ shores rise to the surface?  The brashness of Aussies is something I'm rather familiar with, but forgive me if I feel that sometimes it can be exactly what’s needed to build the hype and rally the troops.

I'm looking for the Airs to be bold this season, brash, fearless, and confident. With the squad they’ve assembled, I’m confident this is their time, so let’s talk them up.

Chasing championships and promoting those aspirations is ok by me. Bring it on. I’m tipping the Airs to create history this year and win it all. I’ll be interested to see which team others in the commentary group will be leaning towards. If others are on the Airs’ bandwagon they'll have to take a seat down the back because I’m happily propped up behind the steering wheel.

I like the mix of the Airs roster, the star factor is definitely there, the young and exciting Cameron brothers are ready to roll, and Carlin Davison is primed to take his next big steps.

And keep an eye out for Quintin Bailey. From all reports he is absolutely flying under his new coach.

Mitch McCarron is a proven commodity, and American Minnie is no slouch. Even down the bench, young guns are starting to emerge.

This is a team that will run and excite, push and perform, and they’ll bring the entertainment. The hype is real.

The Year of the Airs has arrived!


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