Waikato sweeps to national glory
Waikato continued its recent stunning form by claiming the national championship title in Tauranga. Although swamped 64-38 by co-finalists Canterbury in pool play, Waikato reversed its fortunes in the grand final when they swept to a 69-48 victory.
Canterbury were rocked by Waikato’s onslaught which saw the victors take a 19-12 lead at the first quarter break and build on that advantage to be ahead 37-19 at halftime. By three-quarter time the lead had stretched to 57-32.
National MVP Sheldon Larsen was again the kingpin, proving unstoppable – too skilled and too fast for the opposition who had no answer. Throughout the tournament, however, he did enjoy good support from young Jesse Kawarau Apiti, who was an admirable link, scoring and rebounding well and also proving his worth defensively. The experienced Brendan Mes was also invaluable. Waikato had the measure of one and all, except in the earlier clash with Canterbury, when Larsen struggled to build his game.
Before falling apart in the final, Canterbury looked in fine fettle with several handy performers showing their wares. Eamon Wood continued to set high standards and was another of the tournament’s outstanding figures. Australian import Adam Roocke proved full value but was fouled out in the third quarter of the grand final although by then the result was a foregone conclusion.
Defending champions Auckland easily accounted for Mid West in the play-off for third position. On paper Auckland looked formidable boasting five international players but often throughout the championship they failed to gel. They never quite looked the complete team when captain Mark Sullivan wasn’t on court. As usual Kauri Murray was always impressive. James Russell, Mii Pepe and Ricardo Gozon all had their moments.
Mid West had disappointing results against the better teams. The talent is there but a lack of training and an air of predictability about their play was apparent. Ben Hekenui was the pick of their players, rebounding strongly as he looks to strengthen his all round game.
Waikato, Canterbury, Northland/Bay of Plenty and Auckland C featured in pool one, with Auckland A, Mid West, Auckland B and Waikato B in pool 2.
Final Placings: 1. Waikato. 2. Canterbury. 3. Auckland. 4. Mid West. 5. Auckland B. 6. Northland/Bay of Plenty. 7. Auckland C. 8. Waikato B.
The tournament team was named as Sheldon Larsen, Jesse Kawarau Apiti (Waikato), Eamon Wood (Canterbury), Kauri Murray, Mark Sullivan (Auckland).
Results: Waikato 74 Auckland C 34; Auckland 68 Auckland B 14; Mid West 81 Waikato B 10; Canterbury 69 Northland/Bay of Plenty 25; Auckland 46 Mid West 30; Auckland B 64 Waikato B 24; Waikato 80 Northland/ Bay of Plenty 30; Canterbury 87 Auckland C 36; Mid West 61 Auckland B 30; Auckland 70 Waikato B 12; Canterbury 64 Waikato 38; Northland/Bay of Plenty 52 Auckland C 36. Crossovers: Northland/Bay of Plenty 59 Waikato B 26; Auckland B 49 Auckland C 26; Canterbury 65 Mid West 33; Waikato 49 Auckland 38. Playoff 5th and 6th: Auckland B 36 Northland/Bay of Plenty 20. Playoff 7th and 8th: Auckland C 54 Waikato B 40. Playoff 3rd and 4th: Auckland 61 Mid West 36. Final: Waikato 69 Canterbury 48.