Hold the house-warming party

PETE MCNAE
Last updated 12:00 05/04/2014
nelson giants supporters

LOYAL: Nelson Giants supporters the Wannabes get animated during the first game at the team’s new Saxton Stadium home.

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The house-warming party is on hold for a week.

After a string of late nights and early mornings for a small band of employees and volunteers, Saxton Stadium was opened last night as the new home for the Fico Finance Nelson Giants, the region's national basketball league franchise. Nelson, the only team to have joined the league at the start and never missed a season since, were left homeless after an interim report late last year suggested that the Trafalgar Centre was unsafe in the event of a moderate earthquake. Blenheim was offered as an option, and there was also a possibility that the Giants would sit out a season until they had a place to play.

But Stoke's five-court indoor stadium at Saxton Field was transformed in recent weeks, from having limited spectator capacity into a 1700-plus seat stadium in time for the Giants' season opener last night. The fact the home side was beaten 84-78 by Wellington robbed the massive effort of a little of its polish.

"Sharona [Gordon], Katrina [Topp], Heather Walker and the volunteers . . . they were here all hours to make this happen and our part of the deal was to put on a performance for them, in particular," Giants captain Phill Jones said. "Instead, we played at about 50 per cent and that is really disappointing."

Jones, who will break the record for the most number of games played in NBL history later this season, was a fixture in the Trafalgar Centre for almost half of his 350-plus matches. However, he believes Saxton is a positive step forward.

"We are lucky to have this opportunity," he said. "When the doors were closed at the Trafalgar Centre, we might have been out of business. Instead, we have been provided with a very good facility.

"It seemed a little quieter than the old place but maybe that was because we didn't give the fans enough to cheer about."

In charge of the organised cheering was Wannabes support crew leader Tom (Tommy G) Gargiulo. He was thankful for the chance to barrack for the Giants in 2014.

"It's a great second home for the Giants. I feel like we brought it tonight."

He did cast one glance backwards.

"I would love to some day be back at Trafalgar. It is just the historical factor and feeling at home in Trafalgar. This will never be The Hangar, but it is as close as we are going to get."

The Giants' American forward, Jamal Boykin, made his NBL debut last night, having never set foot in the old venue. He had a different take on the shift.

"It's the people that make a home court, not the building," he said. "Every gym is going to have backboards and baskets but the energy is what makes it your home floor and I felt energy tonight. It's pretty nice."

While there were a few minor teething flaws to absorb, Giants fans are a loyal bunch. Many have been barracking for a Nelson team since that first national league season in 1982.

"I've been a fan since my Pop, Trevor Wright, coached way back," said 26-year-old Tessa Wright. "I've been a Giants fan for as long as I can remember.

"Nelson fans are pretty dedicated, they get behind their team and, to see the stadium now, is just awesome."

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Those sentiments were echoed by Faye Lowson, 70.

"I go to every home game and I have been watching them for many years. To be frank, I don't care where they play as long as I can go watch them."

All that is required now is for the Giants to break the seal on the win column in Saxton. That might happen as soon as next Saturday when they host the Canterbury Rams at 7pm. Game report, P28

- The Nelson Mail

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