SEASON PREVIEW: WOLLONGONG ROLLERHAWKS
Last Year: 16 wins, 2 losses, Champions
Roster: Shawn Russell, Nick Scott, Darren Hayes, Hannah Dodd, Brad Fisher, Brett Stibners, Luke Pople, Nick Taylor, Michael Auprince, Ashley James-Kennedy, Clay Kelly.
Wollongong begin their title defence on the opening night of the season against Adelaide but have to wait until the first game of Round 2 for a Grand Final replay against the Blues. They have a quiet finish to the regular season thanks to a bye in Round 7 before they play just two games in Round 8 on July 7 and 8 with the playoffs beginning on July 20.
The key to Wollongong’s 2017 Championship was their on-court chemistry as well as their superior ability to share the ball and find the open player. The good news for the upcoming season is that they have retained a majority of their roster including Brett Stibners (2017 Finals MVP), Nick Taylor (third overall for assists), Luke Pople (second for scoring in Wollongong and fifth for assists overall), Michael Auprince (league-leader for rebounds) and 2017 Coach of the Year Brendan Dowler. Those stars will lead their Championship defence but the inclusion of Shawn Russell makes them even more imposing. Coming over from Kilsyth, Russell made his Paralympic debut in 2016 with the Rollers and is a consistent double-digit scorer and a strong passer. If he can fit into the Rollerhawks line-up quickly, his ability to move the ball will add another facet to a team that will already head into the season as favourites.
One To Watch:
Michael Auprince. Developing into one of the best forwards in the competition, Auprince averaged career-highs last season with 18.8 points and a league-best 12.1 rebounds per game. He controlled the paint with 14 double-doubles including a 28-point, 21-rebound performance against Perth and also shot 64% from the field in an incredibly efficient year. He now has the burden of backing up those efforts in 2018 but proved he is not afraid of pressure after collecting 15 points, seven boards and eight assists in last year’s Grand Final.