Southland Sharks to choose grit over glitz
Sharks coach Paul Henare doesn't care how his team makes it to the playoffs, as long as they do.
The third-placed Sharks are in a tight race with the Wellington Saints, Nelson Giants, Waikato Pistons and possibly the Otago Nuggets for one of three available places at finals weekend in Wellington in a fortnight's time.
Any coach would prefer to take momentum into the playoffs but, after the sort of season Henare has had, he'll take what he can get.
"We aren't there yet and our job, first and foremost, is to get there. Last year we got two hidings in Wellington and Nelson in the last weekend of the regular season. We were able to get refocused and get ready and get there. This game is crucially important to getting there."
Runaway competition leaders, the Hawke's Bay Hawks, have already locked up the top spot, but the Zero Fees-sponsored Sharks have close to a dream run home with two of their three remaining games against the Canterbury Rams, the league's worst-performing team.
The Rams have fashioned a four win-11 loss record in their return to the competition this season, although they have been buoyed by two wins over the Pistons.
"They are a highly talented team, despite their win-loss record. They are starting to hit a bit of form - disappointing for them that it's probably a bit too late, but they've got some guys who can put some points on the board," Henare said.
"Their two imports, [Glen] Dandridge and [Matthew] Rogers are really dangerous in their own right. Marcel Jones is putting up some big numbers as well and they are led from the front by Jeremy Kench."
Dandridge will not play this weekend, however, as he has an elbow injury.
While the Sharks won't want to limp into the playoffs, Brian Conklin will be.
The big United States import continues to struggle with a persistent ankle injury.
"In a perfect world, he probably wouldn't be playing, to be honest. He's limping around on it that much and he's playing big minutes, close to 40 minutes the last few games. He has said that it feels better if he just keeps playing, rather than sitting down and letting it cool down," Henare said.
"It's been tough because we've had the double headers, so it's not just the one game he's had to battle it out. It sets the healing process back a bit with it swelling up on flights and after games.
"He's a tough character and he's getting through it."
The Southland Times