What’s On Your Team’s New Year’s Wish List?

Photo credit: tackld

As we prepare to enter 2024 the hopes are high across all 11 teams in the Sal’s NBL and as rosters start to come together for the battles that await, each team’s wish list is starting to form.

Stay healthy, make home court a fortress, play up-tempo basketball, be the best defensive team, play consistently well, have a squad with depth, sign the right imports, make the playoffs and win the silverware – just some or all of the boxes each team will be hoping to tick.   

While it takes a lot of things to go right to win a championship, the fact remains only one team will be left standing on the top step when the final buzzer sounds in late July, so the list of new year’s wishes are likely to be different from team to team.

What should be on top of the wish list at your team? Let’s take a look.

Auckland Tuatara

A championship! Simply put, after suffering back-to-back grand final losses in 2022 and 2023, a first-ever title must be on top of the wish list for the Tuatara. With 2023 League MVP Rob Loe back on deck, plus Aussie Cam Gliddon also returning, the Tuatara recently showed they mean business (again) by securing the prized signature of Tom Vodanovich. And it seems they aren’t finished yet with a string of big-name Kiwis constantly being connected with Aaron Young’s team. While they missed out on Dontae Russo-Nance (Nuggets) and Alex McNaught (expected to return to Nelson), let’s not forget they still have two import spots left (if needed). So, just one wish on the list for the Tuatara – SILVERWARE!

Franklin Bulls

More finals action! The Bulls enjoyed finals for the first time in 2023 (not including the 2020 Showdown where they made a semi-final) and looked more than comfortable under the big spotlight. The hype was real, and it was fun. A fifth coach in five seasons probably isn’t the consistency they were looking for, and the losses of Dan Fotu (Giants) and Jayden Bezzant (Whai) are big blows but bringing in Ethan Rusbatch (Hawks), Jordan Hunt (Hawks) and Sam Timmins (Nuggets), plus the return of Isaac Davidson and Dom Kelman-Poto, provides the Bulls with a strong Kiwi contingent. Now for the imports. Priority number one on the wish list …. more finals!  

Taranaki Airs

A place in the grand final! Championships are tough to win, especially in today’s competitively balanced era of the Sal’s NBL, so maybe the top wish on the Airs’ wish list is to get to the big dance and take a big swing at winning it all. One of the teams to beat back in 2022, most within the Taranaki camp will confirm it was a championship opportunity missed as it all went wrong in a matter of seconds and the dreams of a smaller market team went up in flames. But mark it down, under new ownership this is a franchise that means business. Flynn Cameron and Mitch McCarron have signed on for the ride, Carlin Davison and Tobias Cameron are back, and a couple of other big names are being hotly whispered. This Airs team can make the finals, no doubt, but topping their wish list will be their first ever place in a grand final …. and a shot at glory.   


Strong foundations! Finals in their inaugural season would be a dream come true for the Whai, however setting strong foundations for the future will be welcomed with open hands and top of the wish list. Big crowds, a formidable atmosphere at home, the right team culture, and a high level of positive consistency on the court will be the foundations being sought. It’s a tough competition these days and reaching too high too soon might lead to disappointment. Under fledgling coach Matt Lacey the Whai will be aiming to do things the right way the first time, and to build strong foundations that will help bring sustained success in the years ahead. Step by step.

Hawke’s Bay Hawks

Stability! After a prolonged five-plus years burst at trying to win it all, a flurry of changes at the Hawks has led to somewhat of a rebuild for 2024. First cab off the rank when rebuilding is stability – you need to build a stable environment where strong player development can rise to the fore. A tumultuous end to season 2023 that saw the Hawks exit the playoffs on a missed goaltend call has been heightened by a string of roster changes. Starters Ethan Rusbatch (Bulls), Hyrum Harris (Saints) and Jordan Hunt (Bulls) have moved on, Derone Raukawa is also expected to sign elsewhere, while coach Everard Bartlett was let go after just one season at the helm. But it's not all doom and gloom. Led by new coach Sam Gruggen and teenage sensation Jackson Ball, the Hawks will be hoping to sign some experience Kiwis and three very good imports. The winds of change have blown in at Hawke’s Bay and stability will be priority one.  

Manawatu Jets

Make the playoffs! The new year’s wish list at the Jets should only have one thing written on it – make the playoffs! Since the introduction of the full salary system in 2021, the Jets remain the only team yet to make the Sal’s NBL finals, a record they will be desperate to fix in 2024. For the last two years under coach Natu Taufale the message has been one of rebuilding and youth, setting foundations and stability, a step by step approach, it’s been all about the big picture and not short-term sugar hits. So, here we are, it’s time for the Jets to fly and bring some finals hoops to the green army.

Wellington Saints

A championship! The standards and goals at the Saints are always high, so expect nothing less than their new year’s wish list to be headed by – championship number 13! The competitive balance era has delivered a mixed bag for the Saints with a championship in 2021 followed by two up and down seasons that resulted in early playoff exits. With 2021 coach Zico Coronel back at the helm the hopes will be high for more silverware being added to a cabinet that must surely be one of the biggest in New Zealand sport. And let’s not forget this is a team that makes a grand final every other year – it’s an imposing record spanning some 40 years. Leading Kiwi Hyrum Harris (Hawks) has been signed, along with Aussie import guard Ben Ayre, but the loss of Tom Vodanovich (Tuatara) is a big blow and a huge gap to fill. The next block of signings during January could well define 2024 for the Saints. 

Nelson Giants

Playoffs! For some reason it always feels like the Giants are on the rise and ready to stake their claim, but their last championship came in 2007 and their last grand final appearance was back in 2013. A stellar 2022 season ended abruptly in the playoffs, and 2023 was just a constant battle to be fit, healthy and playing consistently. A new year in Nelson brings fresh hopes. In a coup, coach Mike Fitchett has landed Dan Fotu (Bulls), while a raft of local youngsters will enter the fray. If Fitchett can land a couple more key Kiwi pieces, along with some dynamite imports, then playoffs will definitely be on the menu (and the wish list).

Canterbury Rams

Back-to-back! Why settle at winning one title when you can string a few together? Last season the Rams claimed their first championship since 1992 and now with a number of players expected to return (Britt, Isaac, Darling) why can’t they do it all again? Import recruitment will be key, plus another late-season signing like Corey Webster will help in their back-to-back quest. You can be assured the new year’s wish list for the Rams won’t be to settle on making the playoffs, the top line will read (and be underlined in thick pen) … Do It All Again!  

Otago Nuggets

Reclaim the crown! What a ride it’s been for the Nuggets since returning to the Sal’s NBL in 2020. After years in the wilderness and out of the national league, the Nuggets have come back with a bang and already claimed two pieces of silverware. Victory at the 2020 Showdown was followed by winning it all in 2021, while 2022 certainly had more highs than lows. But – the Rams now have the trophy and the Nuggets will want it back. The path to the 2024 title will look a bit a different after Slammin’ Sam Timmins packed up and moved to the Bulls. And while a few more changes could be on the cards, we all know only too well this is a franchise that will roll out three high calibre imports, plus let’s not forget young Kiwi star Donate Russo-Nance has been signed. Stay tuned!

Southland Sharks

Return to the playoffs! It’s been a tough couple of seasons for the Sharks and they will be sick of watching finals rather than playing in them. Since a semi-final exit at the 2021 playoffs, the Sharks were bystanders in 2022 and 2023, failing to make the business end both years. Poor import selections and an injured coach in 2022, a string of injuries and illness in 2023, and too much inconsistency across both years has left the Sharks struggling to mix it with the best teams. A return to playoffs is (and must be) top of the 2024 wish list.


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