Wildcats out for revenge in NBL season-opener
Rob Beveridge stops short of suggesting his Perth Wildcats are angry ahead of Friday night's Aussie NBL season-opener against the New Zealand Breakers in Auckland.
But not far short.
Beveridge brings his snarly Cats to town for the first of four regular season matchups between last season's grand finalists, and he confirms there are still reverberations around from that series the Breakers won in epic fashion at Vector Arena for their second straight championship.
“I don't know if angry is the word, but when you lose that way on the road . . . they're really hungry, they're really motivated, you can see it in their eyes,” says Beveridge of a clash clearly all about revenge from his team's perspective.
Beveridge plays the verbals game as well as anyone when it suits - last season ragging the Kiwis about their "over-celebrating". But he also respects the Breakers, who have eliminated his team in the post-season two years running.
"New Zealand have done a tremendous job from when they first came into the league as easybeats. You think every year now they're going to be in the playoffs, and that's what they say about us.
“We've both done so much hard work and we respect each other for that. It's a war when it's out there, we're going for it, but as soon as it's over, it's over.
“We never go out to play dirty or cheap - neither team does that. It's a warrior mentality, it's a survival of the fittest and we slug it out. But I think it's in a good way.”
Beveridge looks back on what many have labelled one of the finest grand finals series of all time with a mixture of pride and regret. With the first two games going down to last shots and the decider only decided in the final minute, it was one he knows “could have gone either way”.
“If game three was at home maybe we would have won,” he says. “That's how close it was. Game three came down to massive plays . . . some massive threes by C J [Bruton], a great block by [Tom] Abercrombie.
“But I also remember my players in the changing-room, Damian Martin in a moon boot, players during warmups actually vomiting they were so sick, Kevin Lisch with his corked thigh.
“After the game our players were devastated. They'd come so close, yet so far. But when we went out in the streets the people of New Zealand came up and were so positive about the part we'd played. That was enormous respect we received.”
The Wildcats have shed big man Luke Nevill, but are otherwise intact. But Beveridge says it's a much healthier, stronger group he has this year.
“Our team is a lot better than last year, and the guys want to prove that. They've grown up. We've got stability, the same as the Breakers."
- © Fairfax NZ News