THE season’s only a month old, but the newly minted Illawarra-Melbourne United rivalry is fast becoming one of the more absorbing in the NBL.
The two foes will meet again in Wollongong on Thursday, their third showdown this season, after two enthralling contests over the opening three rounds.
Their round-one quadruple-overtime thriller proved one of the best matches in NBL history, while a stirring second-half comeback from the Hawks turned what looked to be a blowout into a nail-biter down he stretch.
United have ultimately got the better of Illawarra by a combined seven points and Hawks forward Brian Conklin says his side are keen to hit back on their home floor.
“You kind of create a rivalry when you play four overtimes and you’re pissed you didn’t win that when you put all that effort in,” Conklin said.
“Then go on the road to their place, have a rough start, fight back and give yourself a chance at the end. It creates a rivalry, definitely.
“It is a bit strange when you play a team like Melbourne three times in the first month of the season when we still haven’t played Adelaide or New Zealand.
“We’re playing Melbourne again this week and then Perth again so we’ve got to get something done this weekend.”
Thursday’s home clash will also see a continuation of a gripping inside battle, with Conklin claiming a points victory in the low block in their last encounter despite the loss. It’s a tustle he expects to continue this week.
“They’ve always had a strong front-court,” Conklin said.
“Last year they had Tai [Wesley] so they really had a formidable front-court. They’ve obviously lost Tai this year but they’ve got Josh Boone in there, they’ve got Alex Pledger.
“Dave Barlow is playing great minutes for them at the four so they’ve definitely got one of the better front-courts.
“I really enjoy competition inside so I’m going to attack it like I’m going to attack every front-court this season.”
Sunday’s clash with Perth will complete a run that sees the Hawks play six of their first eight games against the three championship betting favourites – three of them on the road.
It’s something that brings some perspective to their 2-4 record according to Conklin.
“We’ve got to look at realistically,” he said.
“We’ve lost to the reigning champs twice, we’ve lost to Perth in Perth after a four-overtime game and we’ve lost to the favourites [Sydney], who are fairly stacked according to the media, by seven at their place.
“In this league there’s eight teams, you play everybody four times.
“You can find yourselves losing two games and thinking ‘holy heck we’re out of it’ then all of a sudden you win two games and it’s ‘holy heck we’re right back in it’.
“That’s the beauty of only having eight teams and playing each other so many times. You can set yourself back but you can put yourself ahead to.
“You can’t let yourself get too high and you can’t let yourself get too low.”