Roller Hawks ready to rumble

By Tim Keeble
Updated November 5 2012 - 3:30pm, first published September 15 2011 - 4:23pm
Wollongong Roller Hawks team members Luke Pople, Melanice Hall, Tristan Knowles and Shawn Russell prepare for the national wheelchair league finals this weekend in Brisbane.

The Wollongong Roller Hawks are poised to end Perth’s five-year stranglehold on the National Wheelchair Basketball League in this weekend’s finals series in Brisbane.Wollongong and Perth finished the regular season with identical 11-1 records and their two head to head meetings also ended in a stalemate - the Wheelcats prevailing by 19 on their home court and the Roller Hawks winning by the same margin at Shellharbour.Roller Hawks MVP Tristan Knowles said his side is determined to win the club’s first title since 2003.‘‘It’s going to come down to who’s smarter and who wants it the most, and I really believe we want it more than them,’’ the two-time Paralympian said.‘‘They’re a bloody talented outfit. They’ve won the last five years in a row and you never, ever take them lightly. But there’s just an air of confidence among the guys that we can do it. There’s no injuries, everyone’s in good shape and if we’re smart it’s there for the taking.’’The Roller Hawks square off with Perth in tonight’s major semi-final, with the winner to advance to Sunday’s grand final.The loser will get a second bite of the cherry in tomorrow night’s final when they meet the winner of tonight’s minor semi-final between Brisbane and Sydney.Spearheading Wollongong’s assault will be Knowles, Beijing Paralympian Brett Stibners and Australian squad members Shawn Russell and Luke Pople.‘‘In previous years Perth have just been too good, but we’ve really grown as a team and we’re confident we’ve got a really good chance of winning it,’’ Stibners said.‘‘We’ve already shown we can knock them off and if we stay out of foul trouble and stick to our individual roles and strengths, it’ll go a long way toward beating them.’’The Roller Hawks expect to punish the Cats if they focus too hard on stopping Knowles and Stibners.‘‘In the past we’ve relied pretty heavily on Sticky (Stibners) and I playing well, and that’s not the case anymore,’’ Knowles said.‘‘We’ve got Luke Pople and Shawn Russell and in the last year they’ve improved out of sight. All of a sudden they’re a big threat to Perth as well.‘‘There’s always a healthy respect between both teams, but they might not have been too worried about us in past years. In the back of their heads they’d be thinking that the Roller Hawks can definitely win it this year.’’Wollongong warmed up for the play-offs with season-ending thrashings of Adelaide (130-41) and Sydney (113-48).Stibners erupted for 59 points, 11 rebounds and six assists against Adelaide, while Knowles had a triple-double of 41 points, 18 rebounds and 15 assists and Russell added 20 points and seven rebounds.Knowles tallied 38 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds in the win over Sydney, Russell had 34 points and eight rebounds, while Stibners finished with 28 points, 12 rebounds and six assists.‘‘I honestly don’t think offence will be an issue for us this weekend,’’ Knowles said.‘‘Even in the past we’ve never had problems scoring points against Perth. It’s always come down to us stopping them scoring points, and this year we’ve had a huge focus on defence and just being tough at that end of the court. We’ve been fine-tuning it all season and I’m really happy with how it is.‘‘A lot of it comes down to our mental approach and just being ruthless whoever we’re playing against. We want to let every team know you’re not going to score a point unless you work for it.’’

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