NEWCASTLE Hunters are preparing for a “desperate” Sutherland Sharks in the Waratah Basketball League championship men’s game at Newcastle Basketball Stadium on Saturday night.
The Hunters have won eight straight to be in top spot with a 13-2 win-loss record but coach Darren Nichols has warned his players to be ready for a Sharks team fighting for survival.
Sutherland are seventh with a 7-8 record and, with five games left in the regular season, are one of five teams in the hunt for the last two positions in the play-offs.
Newcastle, Manly (12-4), Hills (11-4) and Norths (10-4) all look safe, leaving Sydney (9-6), Central Coast (7-8), Sutherland (7-8), Penrith (6-10) and Maitland (4-11) jostling for fifth and sixth.
“It’s a must-win game for them, simple as that, so they’ll be desperate for a win and we have to be ready for that,” Nichols said. “They’re much-improved, and they’re a very fast-paced, youthful side so we need to match their energy and enthusiasm or else we’re in for an almighty battle.
Led by Austin Thornton’s 38-point, 15-rebound double-double on debut, Newcastle won 82-65 when these teams played at Sutherland on opening night four months ago.
The Hunters have since added Sharif Watson, who has bolstered their front court and is averaging 16.5 points, 11.3 rebounds and almost four assists a game.
Nichols anticipates being without injured trio Ryan Beisty (ankle), Ben Hawkesley (knee) and Michael Wilson (neck) but expects guard Jakob Dorricott to return from torn ankle ligaments.
Sutherland are expected to be without former Hunters junior Adam Stanger, who has a finger injury, but their leading scorer Jeff Van Dyke (16.2 points per game) leads the Waratah League in made-three-pointers (64) at a 38 per cent strike rate.
Meanwhile, Hunters coach Shannon Seebohm hopes his guards can contain Sutherland stars Chelsie Schweers and Shyla Heal in the women’s game on Saturday, which tips off at 5pm.
Schweers (28.4 points per game) leads the league in scoring and did not play when the Sharks pipped the Hunters 58-56 at Sutherland on March 10.
Heal, who averages 18.8 points, seven assists and 6.5 rebounds a game, is a member of the Australian Sapphires team Seebohm will coach at the FIBA Under-17 World Championships in Belarus later this month. Her father, Shane, the four-time Olympian and former NBL champion, coaches Sutherland.
Sutherland are third with a 9-3 record but fourth-placed Newcastle (9-4), who upset leaders Norths Bears 67-53 away last Saturday, can leap-frog the Sharks.
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