The whole reason you fight so hard to earn a finals double chance is to take advantage of it should you need it and that’s exactly what the Cockburn Cougars will be looking to do at home in a semi-final to the Warwick Senators on Thursday night.
It has been a slow build for the Cougars to get back to being a top four genuine contending team in the competition since the 2016 championship, but in a lot of ways, they are still in the same position they were in at the end of the 2022 NBL1 West regular season.
The Cougars are two wins away from reaching the Grand Final for 2022, it just happens to be those two victories now need to come in the space of three days starting with Thursday night’s semi-final against the Warwick Senators at Wally Hagan Stadium.
The winner of that clash on Thursday will advance to a preliminary final against the Rockingham Flames at Mike Barnett Sports Complex on Saturday night with a spot in next week’s 2022 NBL1 West Grand Final on the line.
Cockburn finished the regular season in tremendous form winning five straight matches to end up in fourth position with a 15-7 record. It’s the first top four finish for the Cougars since winning the 2016 championship.
The Cougars earned the finals double chance as a result of that strong regular season and they will need to take advantage of that following last Saturday night’s 31-point road loss in the qualifying final to the regular season champion Geraldton Buccaneers.
Cockburn will now get the chance to host the Warwick Senators in this Thursday night’s semi-final with a spot in the Grand Final at stake.
Cougars coach Andrew Cooper has reviewed that loss to the Buccs hard with his playing group, but they’ve put it behind them now to focus on bouncing back on Thursday night against the Senators.
The reality is if they can’t get themselves up now for a cut-throat playoff on their home court then they are never going to.
“I told the guys this week in our meeting, they’ve earned the right to have the opportunity to go again. We put out a terrible performance in Week 1, but we get the opportunity to go again and to fix it, and they’ve earned that,” Cooper said.
“If they can’t be ready for this type of environment and this type of game, then we’re never going to get to that last weekend of that season and the Grand Final.
“Getting to the final is the hardest part because you have to win so many games to get there, and if you make it, then anything can happen on the night.
“It’s just so tough getting there and if we can’t perform under these conditions and get ourselves up to play in these environment then they won’t deserve to be there in the first place.”
Awaiting the Cougars on Thursday night in the semi-final is a deep and talented Senators team who are coming off a big win in their elimination final last Saturday against the defending champion Perry Lakes Hawks at Warwick Stadium.
With Perth Wildcats pair Majok Majok and Kyle Zunic in their line-up along with Caleb Davis, Bryan Michaels, Ash Litterick, Jay Thwaites and rising stars George Pearl and Tyler Shand, it’s a dangerous Senators outfit that arrives to Wally Hagan Stadium.
Add in the coaching of Luke Brennan with Cougars championship winner Stephen Charlton his lead assistant, and Cooper is fully aware of the challenge that awaits Cockburn against Warwick before they can even think about a preliminary final against Rockingham on Saturday night.
“They’re a quality team, they are coached really well by Trigger and they have a really strong backing through that coaching group with Steve Charlton and guys like that who have a lot of experience,” Cooper said.
“Then you look at their playing list and you have to admit if they had their whole group together throughout the season then they would have been one of the top contenders in this competition.
“They’ve had their troubles at times during the season but you don’t win a championship in April, May or June and things look like they are coming together well for them now at the right time of the year.
“They’ve obviously got quality players on that squad and they’ve certainly got the talent. I know that we got one over them a few weeks ago, but they are going to be hungry and a different team this time around.
“We are going to have to make sure we get everything right against them because they won’t be coming in and handing us anything.”
Now that the cut-throat semi-final is so close and with the knowledge that every game from here on in for the Cougars is do-or-die, Cooper has full faith in what his team is capable of but is always a little anxious awaiting to see which group turns up to play any given night.
“To be honest, I’m probably more anxious than anything this close to the game. There’s obviously a fair bit riding on this but it’s more about making sure we get our things right,” Cooper said.
“We have a tendency to be a little bit Jekyll and Hyde and sometimes I sit back and wonder which team is going to turn up tonight. I know that if we can get it right, and the players know this and I think most of the league knows this, that our style is tough to beat when we’re on song.
“If I said I wasn’t a little anxious I’d be lying because this is our last opportunity and I hope the players view it the same way and see it as a great opportunity.
“You want to come out with that freedom to play your way but also with the knowledge we have to get it right if we are going to keep our season going past Thursday night.”