With three sleeps to go until opening night of the Sal’s NBL 2022 season, NBL GM Huw Beynon has a message for fans after an off season that was equal parts stressful, rewarding, and heartbreaking.
It’s been a roller coaster off-season for our ten teams, and indeed at Sal’s NBL HQ. When I started this role in early November, we were looking at a season with no imports, no crowds, the possibility of lockdowns, and MiQ for the few kiwis who would come home. What a difference five months makes.
We’ve gone from staring down that barrel to lovingly gazing across the panorama of teams with imports, venues with full crowds, and easy access home for our kiwi players who ply their trade in international leagues. Not that I can take the credit, of course. If I could, you better believe I would. The credit, of course, goes to the kiwi public, the health services, and the government for the response to the pandemic… but I’m not here to talk about that.
What I do want to talk about is the incredible ability our ten teams possess to adapt. They’ve shown amazing patience throughout the turbulent off season and reacted quickly at every twist and turn. The result being ten impressive, competitive teams ready to represent their regions and towns for their fans, starting Thursday night in Nelson when the Giants welcome the Nuggets.
I mentioned the imports earlier. No one enjoyed the 2020 Sal’s NBL Showdown more than me – the chance to see fully kiwi teams go toe to toe – but we all know the value that our restricted players bring. They’re a vital development tool for our kiwi kids, they draw the crowds, they wow those crowds, and they leave lasting memories for players and fans alike. Some of them even hang around and become endearing commentators (love ya Casey).
In early February, the League enlisted the services of an immigration lawyer and since then our team GMs and our incomparable, invaluable, world class League Operations Manager, Maree Taylor, have been working day and night to get imports into our league. We were successful, as you know. It’s a widely unknown ordeal getting foreign players ready to join your club, let alone during a pandemic with border restrictions. Visas need to be granted, flights booked, clearances from previous teams processed, foreign player licenses approved… all before the player gets on the plane. Our teams have done exceptionally well and although we won’t see all of our imports immediately, as timing means most arrive in week 2 or 3, we can’t wait to welcome them and show them what the Sal’s NBL is all about.
Of course, there were two gut punches during the off season too. Losing Jake McKinley and then Kenny McFadden were days that none of us were prepared for. They were also days where we all came together, mourned together, remembered together, and loved together. We will honour both our departed brothers throughout the 2022 Sal’s NBL season.
With the season tipping off on Thursday, I can’t wait for you all to see your teams in their flash New Balance uniforms (which are available to buy HERE), complete with adored veterans, exciting rookies, proud kiwis, and show-stopping imports. Go out and buy your tickets, wear your colours, cheer loudly for your team. If you can’t make the game, order some Sal’s and watch on TV, as it’s all live on Sky Sport with highlights of every game on the Sal’s NBL YouTube channel.
See you there. Let’s go.