It is boom or bust for the teams that have qualified for this weekend’s 2018 QBL quarter-finals.
The Pick and Roll spoke with some of the league’s great personalities and star players for a preview of what promises to be a bumper opening weekend of finals action.
MEN | Saturday, 11 August
#1 Mackay Meteors vs #8 Rockhampton Rockets
Where: 7:00pm at Mackay Basketball Stadium
Prediction: Meteors to take this one by a decent margin
Mackay finished top of the ladder with 15 wins and 3 losses, coming into the season as second favourites to sweep the championship. Todd Blanchfield is in the renaissance of his career after NBL experience with three clubs going on four, along with QBL experience with both the Heat and the Meteors. He is the star of this squad and in strong contention for QBL MVP recognition. On top of ‘Toddy’ they have game winners across the court, including their captain and league great Chris Cedar, strong addition Nelson Larkins, and huge spark plug Titus Robinson.
The Rockets are the underdogs, yet the playoffs are a fresh start and upsets are possible. Through hard work in the back-end of the season they have stamped their ticket for the playoffs. This will be a David and Goliath battle, with the Meteors the competition’s benchmark.
“Mackay are a great championship team who play seven or eight players weekly, but when games get tough they can always rely on their core five. They never back down to any team and always play hard to bring it,” the Rockets’ Malcolm Bernard said.
#2 Townsville Heat vs #7 Gold Coast Rollers
Where: 8:00pm at Townsville 106.3 FM Stadium
Prediction: The Rollers to show what they have after an inconsistent season, but the Heat to prove they are far too hot.
The Heat entered the season as red-hot favourites to go back-to-back after the 2017 grand final series win against the Meteors. Josh Wilcher is all class and has a squad that is a realistic chance to repeat supported by players like Harry Froling and Jordair Jett. The ‘Jett’ must take off in this series for Townsville to really put on a show.
Coach Rocket Rodney Anderson is vibrant, outgoing and his energy and belief in his team never decreases while remaining realistic of the quarter-final challenge ahead.
“We are really excited for the playoffs but these guys will really throw us a lot of challenges,” Anderson shared. “They boast a very good back court with Rhys Martin and Deon Mitchell but their depth and experience is made for this part of the season. We need to be on the top of our games and as defending champs we have a target on our backs.”
The Rollers walked the tightrope for the past month, knowing they had to string wins together to have any chance at making the playoffs. They have one of the deepest Gold Coast rosters with a starting five that rivals any they’ve had on court previously. Matt Adekponya is a player who really can change the pace of a game and he needs to be on his game this weekend. They are confident and are aware they have what it takes to win games with underdog status, and that is the plan for this game.
“A month ago we were sitting at 3 wins, 7 losses and we were very inconsistent and weren’t sure if we would be able to make playoffs,” said Adekponya. “We are winning games now well leading into the playoffs and that’s all we can really ask for.”
Wilcher was also expecting a big game this weekend.
“We versed the Rollers earlier in the season and I don’t really think the result showed how good they really are. We expect them to come into this final and give us a big punch,” Wilcher outlined.
Rollers big man TJ Diop believes the championship is within his side’s grasp.
“This is a great group of guys,” stated Diop. “We dug ourselves a hole early in the season but we have managed to put ourselves in a position to fight for the championship.”
#3 Logan Thunder vs #6 Cairns Marlins
Where: 7:00pm at Cornubia Park Sports Complex
Prediction: Men’s game of the weekend! The Thunder to really grow louder in a tight contest. Obi and Ray to take it to another level in playoffs and Mitch Young to make his case for MVP even stronger.
This game will be insane! Pre-season Logan were paying $51 odds for the Championship and laughed at in terms of possible title contention. Under Luke Cann (one of the most passionate and basketball-smart coaches in the country), this team has really stuck it to the critics this season.
Logan enter the playoffs with their first ever home final and they have the team to work towards a maiden championship. They are skillful individually, but united they are going to show what they have in the tank. Obi Kyei has shown what this league offers in boom fresh Australian talent, and partnered with Ray Simmons, they have created a combination to be feared. Led by the veteran Michael Cedar, sixth man Sean Carroll comes off the bench to create opportunities to add further potency in their game. I have said it multiple times already but I will say it again – Mitch Young is in the form of his career. He is the workhorse every team needs and is always relied upon in that starting five.
“We are looking at the playoffs as a fresh season,” Kyei shared this week. “We did great in the regular season but it now starts all over.”
Luke Cann was also under no illusion ahead of arguably their biggest game of the season.
“We are approaching this like we do all games,” Cann said. “Training and video as per normal and concentrating on what we can control. The boys are all fit and ready for the start of this new season but under no illusions about how hard it will be. Cairns are an extremely well coached side who will look to control the tempo of the game so we must be ready for a fight. Looking forward to getting in front of our home crowed again and competing.”
Beware of the Europeans too. The Marlins showcase that Euro-flair in their style of play, with the lanky yet versatile Christian Jurlina and strong Fabijan Krslovic that have gelled throughout the season. They have played alongside each other in the past, with their Croatian blood lines showing through with their intensity from buzzer-to-buzzer. Having a captain like Anthony Fisher, who can be relied upon to contribute week-to-week is imperative. He is dominant and leaves it all on the court.
“We will be looking to throw the first punch and get off to a fast start,” Jurlina shared. “No catch-up ball now and we need to focus on getting Youngy [Mitch Young] and Obi off the boards, and that will give us a real shot at winning here.”
“The team is excited by the opportunity in front of them,” enthused head coach Jamie O’Loughlin who was encouraged by fielding his best possible line-up this weekend. “[We have a] full list to select from which is a luxury when going up against a red-hot favourite in Logan on their home court.”
#4 USC Rip City vs #5 Brisbane Capitals
Where: 7:00pm at USC Sports Stadium
Prediction: This will be the tightest game of this quarter-final round. I’m taking Rip City in this one, but only just.
This is a clash that showcases the importance of NBL experience. Izzy Tueta is the Rip’s leader, a true competitor and professional of the game. He, along with his pack, are ready to head deep into the playoffs.
“No doubt about this Capitals side,” expressed Tueta. “Away from those in the top four they are easily the in-form team. We love playing Brisbane because they are always physical, competitive games – they are some of the best games we have played all season.”
Since the acquisition of NBL experienced Tim Coenraad, the Capitals have received a much-needed boost in adding that next level of intensity coming into the playoffs. Brisbane are a high-paced team that harness that tempo effectively. ‘Timmy’ does fly in and out from Wollongong which hinders his ability to train with the squad consistently, but when together on the court, this is not apparent.
“It’s been a fast learning curve with this squad,” said Coenraad. “The team has a couple of great guards that love to force a lot of turnovers and errors by any opposition. We also have a lot of athletic young local guys who love to get out and run and gun it. We need to watch a lot of film and really get out and play on the fly.”
WOMEN | Saturday, 11 August
#1 Townsville Flames vs #8 North Gold Coast Seahawks
Where: 6:00pm at Townsville 106.3 FM Stadium
Prediction: Great season for the Seahawks but the Flames to dominate.
The Lady Seahawks have outdone all preseason expectations in their first QBL season. They have a mixed bag of talent, with experience mixed in with Seahawk local juniors. They had a longer pre-season (starting in January) than most, allowing them to further establish strong chemistry among the group. From eighth spot they come into the playoffs with combinations that can cause upsets, and have done so since round one.
The Flames are the benchmark in the Women’s league and are loaded with great talent. Think Micaela Cocks, Darcee Garbin and Lisa Brennan, who are all setting the foundation for what this group can achieve.
Former Logan Thunder rising star Miela Goodchild joined the Flames this season, providing some great contributions so far. She spoke glowingly of her new club, and is locked in for a big finals campaign.
“It’s been awesome playing for the Flames this year,” gushed Goodchild. “Townsville basketball has great coaches, community support, culture and professionalism. We’re a great team and it’s been awesome to be a part of! We get along both on and off the court which I think gives us an extra edge and harder to beat.
“Our plan for this week, for the quarter-final against Seahawks, hasn’t really changed from our round games – we’ve just got to lock down on defence, know the scout and play our style of game.”
#2 Ipswich Force vs #7 Mackay Meteorettes
Where: 6:00pm at Llewellyn Stadium
Prediction: The Force ladies will run a clinic and I see them facing off against Townsville in the big show. AJ with Women’s MVP.
The Force have had a massive season, only losing to the Pirates and Townsville Flames, while winning every game on the road. This group of ladies have been able to scrape wins – some of them not so pretty – yet in dominant fashion. Amanda ‘AJ’ Johnston has been the revelation of the women’s competition. Arriving in Australia five months ago off the back of a break from competitive basketball, she has led the Force to a home final, dominating the opposition and earning a roster spot with the WNBL’s Sydney Uni Flames. There will be personnel changes for Ipswich too, with some of their juniors heading to the US for college. The immediate task is crystal clear and their depth is controllable.
“We know who we are and what we are capable of,” said Johnson. “We are focusing on how we will utilise our advantages so when we step out on the court against any opposition we are always the best unit that we can be.”
The Meteorettes are a gritty side who won’t just make up numbers here. They will need all hands on deck against the Force girls and they are truly aware of what Ipswich can do.
“Mackay has always been a strong team but is in rebuild after losing most of their starting five from last season,” shared McKay’s Heidi Freeburn. “We played Ipswich two rounds ago and they came out and pumped us in the first half. Whoever we are going to take on is going to be tough but that’s what makes this season so great.”
#3 South West Metro Pirates vs #6 Rockhampton Cyclones
Where: 6:30pm Hibiscus Sports Complex
Prediction: Tight contest but the Cyclone imports will be the difference here in a clash that does not feature the cool head under pressure of Opal Nic Seekamp.
South West are a dominant side with girls who continue to bring their best to every game. They have great representative experience, including Seekamp and former Kiwi rep Nat Taylor.
Rockhampton are proud of their accomplishments and have great imports.
“Playoffs was our goal for the season,” the Cyclones’ Christina Boag said. “Our main aim will be to really hit those easy shots and make something from every shot.”
Seekamp is away on rep duties for this game, but Sarah Elsworthy comes in, adding that vital boost in place of the Opal star.
“We have only really played 3-4 games this season with a full season but we have trained all season to cover that and we are ready for this game,” stated Pirate’s captain Maddy Willey. “It will especially be important for everybody to step up and contribute this game. Our first strategy will be to lock down Rocky’s imports and look for solid contributions from all players.”
#4 Southern District Spartans vs #5 Rockhampton Cyclones
Where: 6:00pm at Rowland Cowan Stadium
Prediction: Tight contest. Huge fan of both sides, but see Abby Bishop and the Phoenix rising in this one to redeem themselves and level the score between these teams for 2018.
The Spartans are defending champions and any trip to their stadium is always grueling. They’ve only had three losses for the season and are ready for tough clashes after one of the tightest seasons we have seen. The Phoenix however have some star power, with Abby Bishop a clear standout.
“Everybody is confident,” said Phoenix star Abby Bishop. “We have a game apiece this season and we cannot take last game into this game but we will all be ready and nobody will be backing down.”
“Phoenix are a tough match-up for us,” shared Spartans Captain Rebecca Haynes. “We have gone one a piece with them so far. They got us by 20 and we got them by 20. We are a completely different team from last season when we were expected to be champions, but this season we have to really turn up to win – which is great for us. We have to put in and really work for the win.”
Watch #QBL18 Live Online
You can watch 2018 QBL action live and free online: check the schedule for dates and times.