Natanahira makes brief comeback for Sharks
It was just 13 seconds but for Southland Sharks player Morgan Natanahira that short time on the court on Sunday night was a major step forward for him.
Natanahira was a Breakers development player last year when he was signed by the Sharks on a two-year contract.
He was on the comeback trail from a knee reconstruction when, shortly after joining the Sharks, disaster struck again.
He ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the first quarter of an NBL game against Hawke's Bay in Invercargill.
At the time of the injury, it was predicted he would be sidelined for between nine months and two years. It left the 23-year-old contemplating another gruelling comeback, both physically and mentally.
Natanahira returned to Southland for the second year of his contract this year, vowing to help the organisation in any way he could off the court - while also continuing his rehab on his knee.
He has spent much of the time in assistant coach role.
On Sunday - almost a year to the day when he went down clutching his knee - Natanahira made his return to the court as a player, albeit for 13 seconds at the end of the Sharks' gutsy win over Taranaki.
"It was only a short time but I was just pleased to be a part of it again.
"I'm pretty happy; I thought it would take longer to get to the point where I'm at. The medical staff in our team have been great helping me - Marg [Harp] and Greg [Kassell], I'm sure that's really helped me."
Natanahira wasn't getting too far ahead of himself, knowing he still had a long way to go to get back to having a prominent role in the playing roster.
It is likely the Sharks decision-makers will take a cautious approach with the talented young player, not wanting to push him too quickly.
It may be next year when the former Otago Boys' High School pupil gets big minutes on the court again but he is heading in the right direction.
"I can only push it so hard before it starts to get sore," he said.
"This coming off season I'll just need to keep working at it and, hopefully, when next season rolls around I will be at a point where I can contribute a bit more and play some decent minutes. I'm not sure if I will play many minutes this season, we'll just have to see how it goes."
Natanahira will continue to play the support role in the Sharks, and one of his jobs in the team is the more difficult task of marking up against Brian Conklin in training.
"That's a pretty big job and I guess, for me, I'm lucky to get to train against that calibre of player. If I can train against Brian, then that's why I feel closer to playing."
At the moment, though, he is having to watch from the sidelines on game day - something he admits fuels the fire even more to get back playing.
"It is fun getting to watch but I would probably rather be getting a few minutes out there. Our bench is pretty good; we try to be positive and really motivate the boys. Some benches are pretty quiet but we've actually been told to sit down by the refs in quite a few of our games this season.
"Our team philosophy is to do whatever we can for the team. So if you can't be out there making a difference, we try to do our best to lift morale from the sideline."
The Sharks' next assignment is tonight against the Manawatu Jets at the ILT Stadium in Invercargill. They will then make the trip to Dunedin to take on the Otago Nuggets tomorrow in an important double-header.
Southland currently sit second in the competition standings and, if they were able to pick up two wins this weekend, it would put them in the box seat for a playoffs spot.
Last year, the Sharks qualified fourth after the round-robin series with 11 wins.
The Paul Henare-coached team currently has eight wins this season with seven games still to play.
Teams do play an extra two games in 2014, with the addition of Canterbury to the competition, which could push the required wins to 12 or 13 for a playoff berth.
AT A GLANCE
What: National Basketball League
Who: Southland Sharks vs Manawatu Jets
Where: ILT Stadium, Invercargill
When: Today, 7pm