Auckland claim further national titles

Auckland coach Glenn McDonald can take delight from results achieved at the national wheelchair basketball championships. His first division side claimed the 2016 title at Waitakere with a 66-30 win over the Te Puku o Te Whai Warriors  in the grand final, while his division two line-up defeated Northland 35-21 in finals play.

While the finals results were not entirely unexpected and the division one decider was something of an anti-climax, it was generally agreed that the standards set at the tournament were up a notch or two compared to 2015. There were several well-fought matches in round-robin action with results decided only in the dying minutes. The round-robin and semi-final clashes between Te Puku and Waikato were highlights in terms of intensity.

Speed and accuracy were strong elements of Auckland’s division one performances. Internationals James Russell, who was outstanding, Mark Sullivan, who directed play well, Panchpreet Dhillon, Ricardo Gozon and Mii Pepe were all in form, producing sound strategies through the court.

The stand-out player for Te Puku was Poko Mani, an able-bodied exponent who showed a great understanding of the game. Guard Rewiti Cameron also proved invaluable. Although subsequently outplayed in the final, Te Puku, largely made up of players from the Auckland area, added much to the competition.

Meanwhile, the form of Sheldon Larsen, returning from the South African national league, was a huge factor in the Waikato effort. Despite a flat performance against Auckland, the third place-getters enjoyed a good tournament although a lot was left to Larsen in the tight semi-final with Te Puku. Had centre and next best player Brendon Mes been able to take the court for all of this encounter, the result likely would have been different. Young CJ Takairi showed his potential with good ball skills and speed across the court.

The Mid Western side, stacked with New Zealand representatives, finished fourth and never quite gelled as a unit, despite the talent available. However, Eamon Wood, with the benefits of a new titanium chair, was all class, showing exceptional skill, speed and control. Karl Hobman and Ben Hekenui were tradesman-like, while Te Reo Lewis, Luke McDowall and Paul Fallon all had their moments.

Bay of Plenty went winless but should benefit from the experience gained and the decision to play first division. Shane Davies and fellow New Zealand squad members Curtis Smith and John Sligo added their touches with perhaps lack of combination and team depth spoiling chances. Tegan Davies, an able-bodied player, was another valuable acquisition.

There were no surprises in the naming of the tournament team. Mark Sullivan, James Russell, Eamon Wood, Panchpreet Dhillon and Sheldon Larsen all deserved selection, the latter again picking up the MVP award.

There were some creditable performances throughout the second division and David Sherriff (Auckland) and post player Brent Lynn (Northland) were tremendous value to their respective sides.

The tournament also featured top officials, with the leading referees being Australians Matt Wells and Helen Rosenberg plus New Zealander Gavin Zimmerman. Matt was fresh from the Rio Paralympics where he was the head referee for the men’s grand final. This follows a career as a top international referee and technical member for the IWBF. Helen and Gavin are also IWBF referees, in addition Gavin has officiated in the NBL.

Results: Division One round-robin: Auckland 54 Te Puku 38; Waikato 65 Bay of Plenty 25; Auckland 79 Bay of Plenty 35; Te Puku 59 Mid West 49; Waikato 42 Te Puku 39; Auckland 59 Mid West 33; Waikato 65 Mid West 62; Te Puku 51 Bay of Plenty 37; Mid West 54 Bay of Plenty 39; Auckland 73 Waikato 30. A Division semi-final 1 2nd v 3rd qualifiers: Te Puku 51 Waikato 47. A Division semi-final 1st v 4th: Auckland 54 Mid West 38. A Division semi-qualifier 4th v 5th: Mid West 45 Bay of Plenty 30. Final: Auckland 66 Te Puku 30.

Second division: Auckland 30 Taranaki 29; Northland 49 Wellington 20; Taranaki 28 Wellington 22; Waikato 24  Auckland 22; Auckland 36 Northland 30; Waikato 28 Taranaki 19; Northland 40 Waikato 19; Auckland 34 Wellington 28; Waikato 36 Wellington 25; Northland 33 Taranaki 23. Semi finals: Auckland 26 Wellington 18; Northland 33 Taranaki 26. Final Auckland 35 Northland 21.

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