Straight Shot: Time for the Bulls to Settle in for a Longer Ride

Photo credit: Roshysportfolio

The Franklin Bulls have been a fixture of the Sal’s NBL since the 2020 Showdown, but mixed results and high player and coach turnover has been problematic. Sky Sport commentator Justin Nelson sees blue skies at the Stockyard, but only if they settle in for a longer ride.

Imagine if you had to pick up, move house and join a new school every year. New faces, new teachers, and new systems to learn quickly and get accustomed to. Homework requirements change, your new teacher does things differently, your new classmates take time to understand and connect to.

Such has been the life of the Franklin Bulls since 2020 with a revolving door welcoming and exiting plenty of players and coaches.

Isaac Davidson is the one constant amongst the movement in and out, he's essentially been  a permanent fixture, a sign that stability and career choices are on offer with the Bulls.

To be fair, we live in a dynamic Sal's NBL where player movement between teams is now encouraged, as evidenced by this year's introduction of a trade window. And the League currently only allows one-season contracts, so signing a player multi-year isn’t possible, which only heightens the possibility of a player moving on.

That said, it does however feel like the turnstile at the Bulls has been busier than most.

A case in point is Dan Fotu. The emerging star was a Bulls favourite last season and home around family and friends, but now the only time Bulls fans will get to see him is when he pays them a visit in his new Giants colours. In addition Jayden Bezzant and Te Tuhi Lewis who have joined the Whai while it’s probably a safe bet that Tyrell Harrison isn’t returning. Did I mention that Matt Freeman is in Romania with no news yet on his future in NZ.

By contrast, take the Rams for example - the 2023 champs continue to deliver a model of consistency, highlighted by the ongoing return of Taylor Britt, Max Darling, Walter Brown, Kaia Isaac and Aiden Tonge. The Rams don't need to re-invent the wheel every season, they walk in, pick up where they left off, and get down to business.

The Bulls on the other hand are about to welcome a number of new faces, including Ethan Rusbatch and Jordan Hunt, while Sam Timmins and Dru-Leo Leusogi-Ape return after very brief previous stints at the Stockyard.

On the upside, Dom Kelman-Poto returns to provide a familiar face alongside Davidson and there are positive signs emerging with a number of local youngsters building upon consecutive years in Bulls colours. A very good sign indeed. 

Whether or not the emerging crop of ballers are good enough to influence results in the Sal's NBL remains to be seen, but the introduction of the Sky Broadband Rapid League will provide these locals with better opportunities to improve and hone the skills required than ever before.

But when it comes to stability, the key for me is on the sidelines with the coach and Sebastian Gleim who becomes the fifth coach in five seasons for the Bulls, emphasising the revolving door analogy. As much as the signs are starting to emerge that player stability might improve, the Bulls can't keep throwing a new voice into the mix each year. 

Gleim has signed a two-year deal. Let's hope he stays for five years and can deliver a championship, or two. That's real stability.

The best of the Bulls previous season was fun, exciting and rewarding as you don't make a semi-final in the Sal's NBL without putting together a damn good season.

And the fans deserve consistency too. Coach Dan Sokolovsky became a favourite amongst fans last season, and not just at the Bulls. He was energetic and personable, exactly what the Bulls needed. People around the league liked him.

There was a real sense the Bulls were building something special under Sokolovsky, but then 'whammy' ... he elected not to return. Another one bites the dust.

Why the carousel of coaches?  Is there something we don't know or aren't seeing from the outside?

General Manager of Basketball, the great Mika Vukona, also left the building after just one season (2023). 

Again, why? Vukona is a salt-of-the-earth type of guy. Something hasn’t gone right or at least that’s the way it looks from a distant vantage point.

The need for stability is now. Five years in and the importance of growing the business is greater than ever. Stronger commerciality, increased 'rusted on' fandom and a warmer sense of belonging can all grow around a consistent plan and delivery.

Will 2024 be the year where the Bulls start to build for the longer term and get around a coach who will stay the course for multiple years? 

I can see a championship on the horizon for this plucky outfit from Pukekohe, but the mountain will always be a steep climb one if the tour guide and the best trampers keep heading for others mountains.


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