THE perfect opening to the Wollongong Roller Hawks season almost began as a nightmare.
But a thrilling come-from-behind victory over National Wheelchair Basketball League champion Kilsyth set the tone for the campaign ahead.
Trailing by 11, the Roller Hawks missed their first four shots of the final quarter, before launching an extraordinary 17-4 run to win 77-69.
They restricted the Cobras to just eight points in the last period, before brushing aside the Western Australia-based Red Dust Heelers and then Adelaide Thunder.
“In all three games, we found a way to win,” coach Brendan Dowler, a Paralympic gold medallist in Beijing in 2008, said.
“It was a great hit out, they were very strong opposition playing last year’s champions first-up and then another strong team (Red Dust).
“We came away with three wins so we can’t ask for more than that.”
It was the experienced Australian representative Brett Stibners, who put the Hawks ahead for the first time, with just 2.17 remaining.
Former Wollongong star Tristan Knowles missed a three-pointer in the tense final moments, before the Hawks’ tower of strength Michael Auprince sealed victory.
Stibners finished with 26 points, while Luke Pople played all 40 minutes and scored 22 points and seven assists.
The Hawks were then on the receiving end of a last-quarter surge against the Heelers in the second game of a full round at Shellharbour City Stadium at the weekend.
Wollongong won 52-47, but only after Red Dust provided a massive scare, winning the final quarter 17-9.
They finished off the unbeaten weekend with a 66-24 win over Adelaide, to sit atop the competition ladder.
The convincing win allowed Dowler to use 12 players in the game, with Clay Kelly impressing off the bench, finishing with eight rebounds in 20 minutes.
“Being the first round everyone is going to be a bit scrappy,” Pople said.
“Overall we got three out of three wins and that’s what we came here to do. Everyone got up to date with our shape so all round it was a good weekend.”
The Roller Hawks now play a three-game series against the much-improved Sydney Metro Blues, with games at home on Friday and Saturday night.
They then travel to Minto for game three on Sunday.
The Blues won two of their four games at Shellharbour, after being winless last season.