Sharks ruthless in pursuit of second NBL title

LOGAN SAVORY
Last updated 05:00 16/05/2014
Leon Henry
ROBYN EDIE/Fairfax NZ
SOARING: Leon Henry, top, taking on the Saints in Invercargill.

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The 2014 season has a similar look about it for the Southland Sharks, as they take another shot at the National Basketball League title.

Not only have the Sharks retained all but one of the players who won the title last year, but the season to date is also playing out in similar fashion.

After seven games, the Sharks hold a four-win, three-loss record, the exact same position they are in at the moment as they eye their next assignment against the Waikato Pistons in Invercargill tonight.

The Sharks were patchy in their start to last season, before winning Southland's first-ever NBL title.

The Paul Henare-coached team was just as slow to get out of the block this year, but are now finding form with back-to-back wins over competition front-runners the Wellington Saints and then the Nelson Giants.

Senior player Brian Conklin agrees there is a similar feel this season, and says it is no coincidence they had been getting better week by week.

"It is very similar to last year and it is due to the way Paulie structures the season and the practices. He structures how we are going to improve each week and it shows how we do get better as the season goes on. Right now, to be able to slide back into the lineup and pickup like I was never gone, it is really a testament to the guys we brought back and the work Paulie does."

Henare agrees himself his team was building as he had hoped, but sent a message to his side thatimprovement must continue when they take on the Waikato Pistons tonight.

"We spoke as a team last week that we were getting better, and although we beat the Wellington Saints there was still plenty of room for improvement. Even [against Nelson] we had one good quarter and the other three quarters we were pretty average, so it's just that one quarter was outstanding and that was enough to win the game."

The buzzword in the Sharks camp at the moment seems to be consistency.

After their first four games went win, loss, win, loss, Henare said they had talked about consistency from one game to the next.

With back-to-back wins over Wellington and Nelson, the Zero Fees-sponsored Sharks achieved that but now that consistency word is being attached to a single game.

"We were striving to get that consistency game-to-game. Now we are striving to get consistency in the game and throughout four quarters," he said.

Tonight's opponents the Waikato Pistons have the same four-win, three-loss record as the Sharks at the moment. It highlights the importance in this round-seven game.

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The Sharks will play Waikato twice in six days, squaring off in Invercargill tonight and meeting again in Hamilton on Thursday night.

"We're playing like a little mini-series against Waikato two games in a row home and away, so they're two big games for us," Henare said.

The Pistons' threats centre around the experienced Casey Frank, who was this year called into the Breakers setup, and American import Corin Henry.

Tonight's game against the Waikato Pistons tips off at 7pm at the ILT Stadium.

- Stuff

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