The regular season didn’t quite end how the Perth Redbacks men hoped, but they have reset, refocused and are now ready to win four games in a row to make it an inaugural NBL1 West season to savour.
The Redbacks men might have lost three of their past four matches over the past two weeks heading into the playoffs in the NBL1 West Men’s Division from seventh position with a 13-9 record.
However, captain Joel Wagner and impressive wing Zac Gattorna were absent for each of those past four matches, and they will be back for the playoffs which begin for the Redbacks this Saturday night in an elimination final against the Warwick Senators at Warwick Stadium.
It’s a do-or-die game for the Redbacks with their season on the line but the reality is that under the new finals format, they have to win one game per week over the next four weeks and the first ever NBL1 West championship will be theirs.
That’s a big ask but not an insurmountable one and while the last two weeks of the regular season wasn’t quite ideal with the losses to the Mandurah Magic, Lakeside Lightning and Cockburn Cougars, the Redbacks have now put that behind them.
The group all recommitted their faith to one another this week and committed to making a genuine championship push starting Saturday night against the Senators.
“It was a major priority for us from our training session on Tuesday that we congratulated them on getting there but we wanted them to show us and tell us what it means to them to try and win the thing now,” Jackson said.
“Our focus is now definitely on hitting that reset and that’s what we’ve gone back to coming into this weekend.”
The Redbacks will welcome back Wagner and Gattorna to the group including Tevin Jackson, Marshall Nelson and Louis Timms who are supported by Matt Giorgi, Derek Igbenoba, Denzel Jackson, Ethan Vlahov, Kyden Edman, Jordan Herbert, Lachlan Bertram and David Swaby.
While Ezra Nikora won’t be available through injury, coach Jackson is excited that the Redbacks will have their key players back to make a genuine run at advancing at least beyond Saturday night.
“We’ve got everybody back. The only one we might not have is Ez but that’s from him getting hurt in that last game, but besides from him we’ll have a full line-up and we had everyone out there from Tuesday night this week,” Jackson said.
“We are a different team with Wags and Zac back. We get that leadership from Joel, poise from Joel and from Zac we get a lot more explosiveness on offence as well and he has been playing very well of late as the MVP voting showed.
“And he has been watching the games even though he’s been crook, and he knows where we’ve been falling down and he even addressed the group on Tuesday. I’m pretty confident the guys know what’s at stake and know what it will take to beat a very good Senators team.”
While the Redbacks are feeling good about their prospects, there’s no question the Senators will go into Saturday on their home floor expecting to win too.
They won the West Coast Classic title last year and now with a team coached by Mike Ellis and led on the floor by Cody Ellis, Caleb Davis, Ash Litterick, Justin King and 17-year-old point guard Ethan Elliott, they can’t be taken lightly.
“I think they are going to be a very big test for us and I’m sure that they are like us and had hopes of finishing in the four this year,” Jackson said.
“But they, like us, had key injuries along the way and probably had games that didn’t go their way which hurt so we really are in the same boat as each other to be honest.
“It’s probably only fitting that we are now going up against each other too because really we’re both in the same boat with how our seasons have gone.”
The Redbacks aren’t afraid to look at the bigger picture of knowing it will take four wins in a row for them to now make history, but all the focus right now is on what needs to be done to take care of business against the Senators away from home on Saturday night.
“One of our major focuses of ours this week is talk about what it means for these guys to be in the finals and they have given us a really strong indication that they want to give this everything,” Jackson said.
“The Redbacks name is very strong in terms of winning championships in the past and the opportunity to win again is there for us. To be honest this new final format is clear and it’s a good one.
“It doesn’t allow you to drag on in a series against the same team, it’s just sudden death and you either advance or you are out. I think that format suits a lot of people and now you have to come with it every game and then you move on to the next one.
“This AFL formula I think is fantastic and it means for us we have to go the long road, but the chance is there for us to win the championship and the guys understand what it’s going to take and they want to do everything to have that chance.”