Dillon Boucher is widely regarded as one of Auckland and New Zealand’s most decorated basketball players. A 9-time Sal’s NBL champion and veteran of more than 400 games across two decades in the League, today Boucher has announced the newest and biggest rivalry in New Zealand’s national basketball league – and it’s going to be fierce.
Welcome to the Battle of the North.
The Auckland Huskies and EnviroNZ Franklin Bulls will meet for the first-ever time this Sunday afternoon at 5:30pm and it is GAME ON!
It has been years since the NBL featured a genuine Auckland rivalry, indeed the last time two Auckland-based teams played in the league as rivals was 2012 when the short-lived Pirates went up against the Harbour Heat (neither team would return in 2013). Prior to that, the Auckland Stars and the Harbour Heat did go head to head in the league from 1986 to 2009, while other Auckland teams have also contributed in short spells to Auckland basketball NBL history, notably Ponsonby 1984-88; Waitemata Dolphins 1982/83 and 1988/89 and the Super City Rangers 1990-95, 2013-19.
Boucher played in a number of those clashes during his decorated career, turning out for the Stars, Heat, Pirates and Rangers, and understands the value in a healthy rivalry and local derby atmosphere, something he enjoyed at different times in his career.
“Sport needs rivalries, we see the impact all around the world in different leagues – not just in basketball, but in all sport. And in these modern times players and coaches are often encouraged to take the PC route of saying a game is ‘no different to any other’ when the truth is quite the opposite. When you nail down to the core of those rivalries, they motivate players and mobilise fan bases to be that little more vocal and passionate in their support,” said Boucher.
“The emergence of two genuine teams with strong supporter bases in the Auckland market is a much-needed development of the Sal’s NBL, not just this year in the Showdown version, but for future years. I know having spoken to some of the players and supporters that games between the two teams will have that extra edge and that can only be good for the game and the league.”
The Sal’s NBL Showdown heralds a new era of Auckland basketball rivalry, with the Franklin Bulls and Auckland Huskies both entering the league for the first time this season. And despite the relative freshness to both clubs, there is already a simmering and very competitive rivalry ahead of their first clash on Sunday (5:30pm) at Trusts Arena. In fact, if social media is to be believed, it might be called a healthy ‘dislike’ for each other.
Fueled in part by original 2020 signing Leon Henry moving from the Bulls to the Huskies, the two clubs are set to test that competitive spirit for the first time this Sunday, with the NBL putting a new trophy on the line each time the two clash. To be played for in perpetuity, the Battle of the North will come with the ultimate bragging rights and a perpetual award will be held aloft by the winning captain post each game.
Henry was coy when asked of his influence in the built-up tension for this weekend's clash, but said he always gets up for games where the stakes are high.
"It's exciting times for the League, I love the amount of talent we have in this city and for us to be at the fore-front and the ones to create this rivalry between us, I think it's going to be exciting moving forward.
"It's been funny, moving around the hotel, interacting with the Bulls players, and just the conversations we've been having between each other, it's been interesting.
"I've been trying to keep a cool head, but at the end of the day, I'm going to use whatever I can get out of myself for the game on Sunday, and I'm sure that's going to be the same for my team-mates and the Bulls. It's going to be a war."
Bulls Captain Everard Bartlett echoed Henry's sentiments and added that when in the heat of battle it feels as if there's more to play for.
"I always approach every game with a winning mindset, but when you're a part of rivalries you just know there's more at stake. When you step on that court, all bets are off.
"I've been around the League and I know a lot of the boys in the other team, but when we get out there and the lights are on, we're going in there to take their heads off.
"It's going to physical, it's going to be emotional, it's going to be intense, it's going to have everything, and it's going to be awesome having the Auckland crowd there, cheering for both sides.
Both the Bulls and Huskies have fixtures before Sunday's marquee showdown, with Franklin taking on the Wheeler Motor Company Canterbury Rams tonight at 7:30pm, and the Huskies battling the Property Brokers, See Me Media Jets on Saturady at 5:30pm.
Tickets for the Battle of the North, as well as all other games, can be purchased at www.TicketFairy.com, or alternatively they can be bought on the door.