THEY’VE done a pretty good impression of champion racehorse Chataqua refusing to jump in recent seasons, but Illawarra skipper Kevin White said his side can't afford the same sluggish start when the new season tips off on Friday.
The Hawks have been dead last after four rounds the past two seasons, dropping four of their first five to start their 2016-17 campaign and five of their first six last season.
They climbed all the way back to the grand final series in 2017, but the hole proved too deep last season, with the Hawks going without finals action for the first time in Rob Beveridge’s coaching tenure.
They’ve been dealt a tough hand in facing defending champions Melbourne United in their season-opener on Friday ahead of the tough road-trip west to face Perth on Sunday, with White the first to admit that Hawks have to break the trend.
“It’s one of the things we’ve spoken about, we can’t go in and end up chasing our tail like we have,” White said.
“We got fortunate a couple of years ago, and even the year before that when we made the semi-finals, but last year we were just in too deep and couldn’t get out.
“I don’t think any team this year can afford to drop three or four games behind the pack and think they can make it to the finals.
“If you’re hoping that you can come form three or four games outside the four I think you’ll be in a lot of trouble. Once any team gets rolling it’s going to be hard to catch them.
“We’ve got stay on top of that, we’ve got Melbourne at home and then Perth on the road and and ideally you’re going over to Perth with a free punch. If we can go over there 1-0 it makes things a lot easier than going in 0-1.
“We know as an organisation that winning in Perth hasn’t been the easiest thing to do over the past 11 years so Friday night’s really important to start our season off and keep the ball rolling from there.”
Melbourne will run into Friday’s tip-off on the back of clashes with the Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors in the US.
That preseason tour naturally grabbed more attention than the Hawks Seri Mutiara Cup-winning campaign in Malaysia lat week.
It’s nothing new for Illawarra and White said the Hawks have enjoyed the quiet build-up to the season.
“I think we’ve always floated under the radar whether we’ve been in the spotlight or not,” White said.
“The league in general hasn’t taken to fondly to us being a around which is probably another reason we’ve got chips on our shoulders.
“We were over in Malaysia while all the other teams were flying around in the US.
“It presented some challenges for us that I think will help us in the long run when the season comes around.
“We had five games in six or seven days so there were some testing times where things were tough and the body’s weren’t feeling great.
“To win games under those circumstances and come home with the silverware will do our confidence a world of good.”
The five wins showed the grit on which they’ll build their season with a roster that’s unashamedly blue collar.
“If you look at the way we’ve recruited, we haven’t got anyone who’s that flashy,” White said.
“We sat down as a group while we were away and spoke about what this bully ball slash Bevo ball looks like and defined some rules and things we want to stand for.
“It was a good time for the group top get away and establish those things that we feel will help us make it to, one the finals, and two, take it to another level and win a championship.”