Our first look at the Taranaki Steelformers Moutainairs in 2021 comes in the deep south as they become the first team since 2014 to embark on a Sal’s NBL Southern Swing. They play the SIT Zero Fees Southland Sharks tonight, before a short drive to Dunedin to take on the Go Media Otago Nuggets on Sunday.
The Sharks had a successful, if scrappy, road trip to Nelson to kick start their campaign, and they’ll be absolutely champing at the bit to suit up in front of their home fans for the first time in two years. Memberships are at an all-time high in Southland, so expect a full house as loud as one of Burt Munro’s Indians tonight in Invercargill.
Potential Sharks line-up
I can’t see Bevo changing anything up after the win over the Giants in Nelson. Imports Courtney Belger (PG) and Josh Cunningham (C) were undercooked in the opener, but showed signs of good things to come. The headline from the win was the performance of young Brayden Inger, so he’ll start at the three again, with Dom Kelman-Poto at the four. Alonzo Burton (SG) took a while to get back into his groove on Monday, so expect to him to let it fly early tonight.
Potential Airs line-up
Aaron Bailey-Nowell has been ruled out after rolling his ankle, so no 300th celebration for him on this road trip. Here’s hoping he’s back to full fitness by the Airs home opener next Thursday. Nelson Kirksey will likely make his Airs debut in the backcourt alongside former Jet Haize Walker. Mr Double-Double Marcel Jones will be key for his team at the three, with local lad Baxter Fenwick deputising for Aunty at power forward. Tai Wynyard will need to provide meaningful minutes at centre.
Toby Gillooly played healthy minutes off the bench on Monday, so expect to see plenty of him tonight. Another eyebrow raiser, in a good way, from the Sharks first game was the performance of Johnny Helu, who’s lightning quick first step made for an impressive debut. I look forward to more of that tonight.
The Airs bench contains the young man I’m most excited to see play this season. Carlin Davison, out of New Plymouth Boys High School, could jump over Mount Taranaki such is his explosive ability. Still just 17 years old, he’ll be given a little more rope than last season. Francis Mulvihill was good last year for the Airs, and could start at the one. If he doesn’t, expect to see him plenty of minutes off the bench. The same can be said for Stratford’s own Morgan Trott.
A winning Sal’s NBL debut for Rob Beveridge would have told him plenty about his team. He’ll be well received at Stadium Southland, as I’m informed he’s already made a great impression on the local community.
Trent Adam is back as head coach of the Airs after 2 years away. Winning seasons have been few and far between for the Airs, so Adams has a tough road ahead. Splitting the Southern Swing would be a good start to the season.
Where it’ll be won
It’ll come as no surprise that Marcel Jones will be the key for the Airs this season. To call him a journeyman is unfair, as it belies his ability to singlehandedly keep his teams in games, but this is his 10th season the Sal’s NBL, with his 5th club. He’ll be crucial to any success the Airs have.
The Sharks, with a game under their belt, will fancy themselves in their home opener. Burton was quiet in Nelson, so I expect him to pick it up against his former team tonight. More importantly, we’ll see an import duo with a game under their belt, and that could prove the difference tonight at ILT Stadium Southland.
How to watch
Tickets available here: TICKETS | home (sharksbasketball.co.nz)
SKY Sport 3 – 7:30pm – Commentary from Huw Beynon and Donna Wilkins