The Cockburn Cougars women have already made history just by reaching the NBL1 West Grand Final in 2023 but they are far from done with the focus now on beating the Willetton Tigers to claim the championship.
It has already been the best ever SBL or NBL1 West season from the Cougars women in 2023 since the competition was officially formed back in 1989.
For the first time the Cougars women have finished as the regular season champions with the record of 18-2 and winning percentage of 90 per cent the highest ever from any Cockburn team – including the men’s championship winners from 1992, 2012 and 2016.
On the back of that regular season performance, Cockburn has now defeated both the Rockingham Flames and Mandurah Magic at sold out finals held at Wally Hagan Stadium to have made their piece of history to qualify for a first ever Grand Final.
That will see the Cougars take on local rivals the Willetton Tigers in Friday night’s Grand Final which is now also sold out at Bendat Basketball Centre to highlight the excitement surrounding the contest.
Championships are never meant to be easy and for the Cougars to prevail and make further history on Friday night with the first ever women’s title, it’s going to take a mighty effort to beat the Tigers.
There’s little doubt now that the Cougars and Tigers have been the standout teams in the competition this NBL1 West season so it’s only fitting they will now be meeting not only with the championship at stake, but also a spot at next week’s National Finals at Joondalup.
For the Cougars to reach the Grand Final and for it to probably be against the club who are their fiercest rivals is only fitting in a lot of ways, and Cockburn coach and chief executive Tyrone Thwaites couldn’t be happier with how it’s all worked out.
“I spoke to Mark Winnett their CEO last week and we both agreed that there would be nothing more exciting than having a rivalry Grand Final,” Thwaites said.
“That’s never happened on the men’s or women’s side certainly at least between Cockburn and Willetton so for that to pan out that way, it’s going to make it a whole lot of fun.
“The crowd are going to get stuck into each other and it’s a healthy rivalry, but at the same time, our Cockburn community is going to get stuck into Willetton and Willetton are going to get stuck into us, and you wouldn’t want it any other way. That’s what makes rivalries so much fun and it’s great that the game is sold out on that basis.”
The rivalry between Cockburn and Willetton sells itself in so many ways but the story of how both teams got to the Grand Final is a fascinating one.
In a lot of ways, it all started in last year’s semi-final where Willetton defeated Cockburn before going on to reach a second straight Grand Final while leaving the Cougars to plan for next year.
Cockburn was able to keep important players for 2023 including captain Kirsty Whitfield, point guard Jewel Williams and centre Jessie Edwards, but the additions of Sarah Mortensen, Steph Gorman and Patty Brossmann have proved massive.
Mortensen had a season where she was runner-up MVP and named to the All-First Team, Gorman was Best Defensive Player and earned a WNBL contract at the Perth Lynx, and Brossmann arrived mid-season to add that extra big with her toughness, rebounding and presence.
Add in the excitement from teenage guards Amelia Corasaniti and Kinley Paterson, and the Cougars won 18 of 20 games during the season, won their two finals and now have a Grand Final on Friday night to prepare for with Coach of the Year Thwaites at the helm.
However, what awaits them is a tough Willetton opponent led by its own two-time championship winning coach Simon Parker who has now taken the Tigers to three straight Grand Finals.
It’s a Willetton team featuring two-time MVP Alex Sharp, championship winning captain Desiree Kelley and gun import Melisa Brcaninovic who are ably supported by Jess Jakens, Amy Jacobs, Sophie Doran, Grace Foster and Kiara Waite.
As a result, Thwaites is fully aware of the challenge ahead for the Cougars to topple the Tigers and claim a first championship on Friday night in front of a sold out crowd, but he can’t wait for the occasion to arrive.
“Simon is also an incredible coach and to get there three times in-a-row is incredibly impressive and anyone who understates that doesn’t know what they are talking about,” Thwaites said.
“We know that they are a seasoned group who has been to Grand Finals before and we know we’re a group that hasn’t, but we’ve seen crazier things happen and we’d like to think we have been the best team all year.
“I think it’s going to be an absolute ripping Grand Final and a really quality game of women’s basketball the basketball community in WA should be getting around.”