Southland Sharks coach stars in exciting victory

ON-CALL PAUL: Sharks coach Paul Henare helps out his depleted Sharks team for their win against the Taranaki Mountain Airs at ILT Stadium last night.
ON-CALL PAUL: Sharks coach Paul Henare helps out his depleted Sharks team for their win against the Taranaki Mountain Airs at ILT Stadium last night.

The week started as a bit of a horror story for the Southland Sharks but it ended like a fairytale.

The Sharks' National Basketball League team was rocked early last week when three key players were suspended on the back of assault charges in New Plymouth last weekend. That was compounded by the fact Gareth Dawson has already been stood down for testing positive for a banned drug.

With four frontline players sidelined, the Sharks were a team depleted, scrambling to even put a team on the court. What they delivered in adversity was nothing short of startling against Taranaki last night.

Against the odds, the Sharks rebounded from what was a dramatic week to beat the Taranaki Mountain Airs 101-86. A clearly fired-up and notably undermanned Sharks team oozed enthusiasm in the first quarter and fed off the vocal 2130 crowd - the second-largest of the season.

Paul Henare was clearly the star of the show, and that was made clear by the reception he got from the ILT Stadium crowd when he was announced in the starting five.

The 35-year-old New Zealand basketball legend had played the last of his 243 NBL games in 2010 but, in a time of need, stepped out of retirement for the Southland Sharks, which he coaches.

They led 32-28 at the end of the first quarter, with Kevin Braswell, 16 points, and Brian Conklin, 10 points, leading from the front, as expected.

The nightmares looked like they could get much worse for the Sharks when star player Brian Conklin limped off midway through the first quarter.

However, he re-entered the game later in the quarter despite still looking very uncomfortable. He showed tremendous determination to continue and, in normal circumstances, with a full squad to pick from, Conklin probably would not have played on.

The Sharks' courage continued in the second quarter and they led 49-47 at halftime.

Braswell was key, racking up an impressive 23 first-half points in what was his 50th game for the Sharks.

He also brought up another remarkable milestone last night - his 1000th point for the Sharks franchise. To add to it all, he broke his own franchise scoring record with a game-high 45.

In true Braswell style, he did it with a trademark three-pointer deep into the third quarter.

Dan Peck's comeback last night was hindered by a stomach bug that had him vomiting hours out from the game. There was a feeling the emotion delivered throughout the first half may take its toll but right through the third quarter the home team kept giving, to lead 72-65 heading into the final period.

Southland's chances were helped in the final quarter when Taranaki 's Suleiman Braimoh was fouled out.

Peck played his 50th NBL game for the Sharks in the 2013 final win over Nelson but retired at the end of the season because of family and work commitments. He answered an SOS this week from Henare to step back into the setup.

The Sharks' next assignment will be at home on Saturday night against the Manawatu Jets.

Southland Sharks 101 (Kevin Braswell 45, Brian Conklin 24, Luke Martin 18), Taranaki Mountain Airs 86 (Suleiman Braimoh 29, Brad Anderson 17, Adrian Oliver 13). Q1: 32-28, HT: 49-47, Q3: 72-62, FT: 101-86.

The Southland Times