Basketball: New-look Hunters out to bounce back in grand-final rematch with Illawarra

ON BOARD: Kelsey Moss will add depth to the Hunters after missing the defending champion’s season-opening loss to the Sydney Comets. Picture: Dean Osland


BOTH teams will field drastically different line-ups when Newcastle Hunters host Illawarra Hawks at Broadmeadow on Saturday night in a rematch between the 2016 Waratah Basketball League women’s grand finalists.

Newcastle rallied from a seven-point fourth-quarter deficit to defeat Illawarra 55-50 in the title decider at Terrigal last August to win their first Waratah women’s championship.

That triumph capped a remarkable season in which the Hunters lost just one game – to Illawarra in Wollongong.

Both sides have undergone significant roster changes since then and will go into this game, scheduled for a 7pm tip-off, after suffering losses in their season-openers last Saturday.

Newcastle went down 54-48 to Sydney at Alexandria, after cutting a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to two with three minutes remaining, and Bankstown bounced the Hawks 83-52 at the Snakepit.

The Hunters and Hawks provided four members of the Waratah Basketball League All-Star Five last season – Sophie Kleeman and Shannon Novosel (Newcastle) and Renae Garlepp and Rachel Lisch (Illawarra) – but all four players have pursued other career options.

“Both teams have had a considerable turnover of personnel since the grand final,” Hunters coach Mark Gledson said.

“It’s a grand final rematch, and it’s a battle between the steel city rivals, so we’re looking forward to it and to our first home game of the season.

“Even though steel production has waned in both areas, the steel displayed on the court hasn’t, and there is always something special about Newcastle versus Illawarra.”

Gledson said the Hunters would welcome back Cassie Pentney and Kelsey Moss after they missed round one.

After a bye last weekend, the Hunters men will return to action against leaders Sydney (2-0) at Alexandria on Saturday night before backing up against Illawarra at Broadmeadow at 3pm on Sunday.

Newcastle (1-2) will try to bounce back from their 84-59 loss to Hills Hornets a fortnight ago but coach Darren Nichols concedes they will have to be at their absolute best because he rates unbeaten Sydney (2-0) as one of the title favourites.

“They’ve had two big wins over Maitland (102-79) and Manly (105-77), who are running second and fifth on the ladder, and we’re coming off a heavy loss to Hills so we’re well aware how tough it’s going to be if we don’t turn up ready to play,” Nichols said.