Take a look at the four teams in contention for the 2017 NWBL title this weekend with the finals tipping off Friday night.

16-2, 1st

Leading Scorer: Brett Stibners- 21.2 points per game

Why They Will Win the Title: The most dominant team through the regular season, the Rollerhawks had top spot sewn up before the final round when they enjoyed the bye. That means they have not played for almost a month and will be coming into the post-season fresh although a slow start to their Semi-Final will not be unexpected.

Alongside their leading scorer in Brett Stibners who is a threat from outside as well as getting to the free-throw line, Michael Auprince is having a stunning year as the league’s leader in rebounding and one of only three players to average a double-double. He has reached that mark in nine out of his past ten games and is set for a big finals series while Luke Pople and Nick Taylor are the third and fourth members of the team averaging over 15 points per game while also combining for 15.5 assists. That ability to share the ball is Wollongong’s greatest asset although the likes of Taylor and Brad Fisher have also helped them to the best defence in the competition, allowing 52.8 points per contest compared to the league average of 63.8.

Why They Can’t: The memories of two years ago will be burning strong for the Rollerhawks as their 2015 campaign saw them drop consecutive playoff games after finishing the regular season in first place. While they lost just two games this season, Wollongong have fallen to Sydney Metro as well as Kilsyth with that game coming in Round 7 and is sure to give the Cobras confidence heading into the Semi-Final.

X-Factor: Pople does a bit of everything on court for the Rollerhawks and this season, he is averaging career-highs in rebounds (6.9) and assists (6.7) while contributing 15.5 points at 53% shooting. He has two triple-doubles on the year but most importantly, Pople hardly commits an error and has tallied just two turnovers in three contests against the Cobras this year. Another couple of effective games like that will play an integral role in Wollongong’s Championship run this weekend.

15-3, 2nd

Leading Scorer: Tristan Knowles- 25.9 points per game

Why They Will Win the Title: Only two teams have ever completed a three-peat in the history of the NWBL but the Cobras have the chance to become the third team in 2017 after achieving the ultimate success in 2015 and 2016. With the finals series being played at Kilsyth Sports Centre, they also have the added advantage of a home court and crowd to aid their quest while the Cobras have won five of their last six games coming into the playoffs.

Amongst a bevy of talented scorers in the league, Tristan Knowles remains one of the most dangerous offensive players. He is the most effective three-point shooter, sits second for assists at 11.4 per game to go with 25.9 points and 7.2 rebounds and he will be aided on the glass by Daniel Del Toso and Joshua Allison. While the Cobras only have three players averaging double-figures in scoring, they have six putting up over five points per game while their scoring ability goes all the way down to the likes of rising star Jeremy Tyndall. That spread has given them the most effective offence in the competition and if they can find their stroke at home, there could be no stopping them.

Why They Can’t: Wollongong loom as the biggest obstacle for Kilsyth to overcome this weekend and they must improve their defence if they are to get past the first-placed Rollerhawks. While they average just 57.8 points against this season, the Cobras have only held Wollongong to 75.6 points across three meetings. Sydney Metro also got off the leash in a Round 6 match-up, tallying 100 points which is sure to create some doubt in Kilsyth’s mind.

X-Factor: A veteran of the game, Shaun Groenewegen adds a nice dynamic to the Kilsyth team and his experience will prove invaluable once again as the Cobras head into the post-season. Hitting double-figures in ten of his 17 games, Groenewegen averages 10.4 points per game but has exceptionally effective numbers across the board with 50.8% field goal shooting, 37% three-point shooting and a 31-42 record from the free-throw line. He has been kept relatively quiet against Wollongong this season but that will only increase his determination for Friday night’s Semi-Final.

11-7, 3rd

Leading Scorer: Joe Chambers- 29.5 points per game

Why They Will Win the Title: Coming from a winless 2016 season, the Blues are the fairytale story of the year with the inclusion of Joe Chambers proving to be a difference-maker. CJ McCarthy-Grogan has benefited from a strong college campaign though, returning to Sydney Metro to average over 20 points per contest while John McPhail is a very capable distributor, the likes of which the team has not seen for a few years. Darren Skuse remains a star on the glass as well with his contribution critical as they face up against the likes of Tom O’Neill-Thorne and Auprince.

The Blues were not on the positive side of the win/loss ledger until midway through Round 3 but since then, they have won seven of their last ten games. The only team to have cracked the century mark in 2017, Sydney Metro have done so on three occasions.

Why They Can’t: That offensive firepower will be a concern for their three rivals this weekend but the Blues are vulnerable at the other end of the floor with the third worst defence in the competition. They own just a 3-6 record against their fellow finalists as well which includes at least one loss against each club while the average losing margin across those games is a whopping 21.7 points.

X-Factor: It is difficult to go past US import Joe Chambers as Sydney Metro’s X-Factor. A big weekend from him could be enough to carry the Blues to the Championship but they must be wary of not becoming too one-dimensional. Averaging a league-high 29.5 points at 61.3%, Chambers has scored at least 14 points in every game while also recording 40+ on three occasions including a season-high of 50 points against Kilsyth. He is not just a shooter though, sitting second overall for rebounds with 10.8 as well as second in the team for assists with five per contest.

10-8, 4th

Leading Scorer: Tom O’Neill-Thorne- 21.8 points per game

Why They Will Win the Title: Queensland had to fight off Perth for the final playoff spot but they will not just be making up the numbers in 2017, owning a capable offence and a better defence than the Blues. They will take confidence from two victories over Sydney Metro, one of which came in Round 8 while they also got within two points of the Cobras in a Round 5 meeting.

Tom O’Neill-Thorne will do a lot of the heavy lifting for the Spinning Bullets and they may need a triple-double out of him to get past the Blues in the Semi-Final which would be his third of the season. The team will back themselves to have an advantage on the boards though with Jake Fulwood, Matt McShane and Kurt Thomson all providing opportunities for second chance points as well as controlling the tempo of the contest.

Why They Can’t: While they own a winning record against Sydney Metro, Queensland have not been able to get past Wollongong or Kilsyth in six contests this season. There was just a two-point defeat to the Cobras in their most recent match-up but the Spinning Bullets’ average losing margin in those clashes has been 22.5 points.  

X-Factor: Queensland will be looking to their previous encounters with Sydney Metro to provide a blueprint for their Semi-Final on Friday night. A team effort got them over the line in both clashes and therefore, they will be looking towards the likes of Daniel Anstey off the bench who tallied four points and two rebounds in their first win over the Blues. O’Neill-Thorne will be the most damaging player for Queensland but a variety of avenues to the basket will be required to take advantage of Sydney Metro’s leaky defence.


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