Hawks coach sets onslaught to blitz boards 

BASKETBALL

Wollongong coach Gordie McLeod has challenged the Hawks to "make a statement" in Friday night's crunch-time battle with Townsville.

The Hawks (11-14) missed a perfect chance to jump into fourth spot when they lost at home to Cairns last week.

That 82-79 defeat broke a run of five straight victories and effectively left Wollongong needing to win their final three games to secure a finals invitation.

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The Hawks hold a 2-1 edge in three meetings with Townsville this season, but the last-placed Crocodiles (9-17) aren't about to do rivals any favours in the run to the playoffs.

"It's really important for us to be super-aggressive at the offensive end of the floor, and there's no question that the critical factors for us are rebounding and defence," McLeod said.

"When we're able to make a statement in those areas, it certainly frees us up and lets us run at the other end of the floor.

"It's really about us and what we have to do to get the different pieces of our group involved in the game."

Townsville are without injured forward Brian Conklin, while Wollongong have welcomed back productive swingman Kevin Tiggs from a three-week layoff with a knee injury.

"You don't want to be down any players in this competition," McLeod said.

Despite their position on the ladder, Townsville have beaten every team.

They accounted for the Hawks by 13 in round 16 and are on a mission to send retiring centre Russell Hinder out a winner in his final home game.

"Rusty's been a good leader of the team and a guy who's earned everybody's respect, no matter where he goes," coach Shawn Dennis said.

"He's been a fantastic ambassador for the game and for the Crocodiles in particular."

Crocs guards Steve Markovic and Mitch Norton are nursing injuries but both will play.

Markovic was the NBL Rookie of the Year in 2004 with West Sydney but left Australia in 2006 and played in Europe for eight years.

"Markovic had too big an impact on the game last time we played them up there," McLeod said.

"They've got plenty of guys who've got the ability to put in good performances. [Todd] Blanchfield's played a lot more minutes and we've seen what he's been able to do with those extra minutes, so he is someone we'll have to do a good job on.

"Townsville are a lot like Cairns with their mobility in all positions. Their bigs can stretch the floor like Cairns did to us, and they've got the ability to shoot the ball from the three-point line."

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