The Cockburn Cougars open their 2023 NBL1 West seasons this Saturday night at Wally Hagan Stadium with two fascinating match ups against the Willetton Tigers.
The 2023 NBL1 West season begins this weekend and for the Cougars that means playing host to the Tigers at Wally Hagan Stadium. The women’s contest tips off at 5.30pm followed by the men’s match up at 7.30pm.
It’s a first up rematch to start the new season from last year’s semi-final for the Cougars women up against the Tigers at Wally Hagan Stadium.
It was a fascinating semi-final battle the two teams played out last season at Willetton Basketball Stadium with Willetton ending up beating Cockburn 103-98 in overtime on the way to reaching another Grand Final.
That was a tough way for the Cougars to end the season after finishing the regular season in fifth position and then beating the Perry Lakes Hawks in an elimination final, but it also showed just how close to the top they really were.
On the back of that, there hasn’t been too many changes made at the Cougars despite the departure of imports Kat Tudor and Alina Hartmann, and quality veterans Haylee De Sousa and Nicole Roberts.
However, the Cougars have added new import Sarah Mortensen along with bringing in Steph Gorman and Patty Brossmann will arrive mid-season to build on how impressive she was last NBL1 season at the Rockingham Flames.
The Cougars now begin the 2023 season this Saturday night at home against a Willetton team fresh off another Grand Final appearance last season with Simon Parker’s team sure to be one of the top outfits in the NBL1 West season.
While Willetton won’t be at full strength to start the season on Saturday night with Sami Whitcomb not available and their import yet to arrive, Cougars coach Tyrone Thwaites is fully aware the challenge they present.
“We only play Rocko once which is a weird quirk in the fixture once and we play Willo early when they will be missing their import,” Thwaites said.
“We probably want to take advantage of the fact we’ll be playing a Willetton team that’s not at full strength and we trust our game style.
“We were one of the best offensive teams in the country last year and we’re not afraid to shoot the ball, which isn’t going to change too much.
“We know that will play into our hands against those teams and we’re very familiar with how Simon (Parker) does things now with Sharpy (Alex Sharp) and Des (Kelley), and Sophie Doran running the point.”
It’s the beginning of a huge start to the season for Cockburn with Rockingham then to come next Thursday and Thwaites is looking forward to finding out more about his team early.
“Then equally with Rocko, they are going to be a massive challenge for us in Round 2. They’re not at full strength but they’ve basically recruited in more than half a team who can all play,” Thwaites said.
“While Mehryn Kraker and Marisa Pangalos won’t be there yet, they are going to be tough with (Tayah) Burrows in their guard spot, and a lot of depth through their wings. It really is going to be an opportunity for us to say we’ve arrived but we also know two games doesn’t make a season.”
It’s quite the tantalising way for the Cougars men to start their 2023 season as well up against a Willetton team who has loaded up for a big bounce back campaign.
Cockburn is fresh off finishing last season in fourth position before a tough first up loss to the Geraldton Buccaneers in the finals and then a heartbreaking semi-final loss at home to the Warwick Senators.
The way that season ended will leave a burning taste of all those involved with the Cougars who are back in 2023, but the fact they were a top four team and really, should have at least reached a preliminary finals means there was little need to change too much.
Aside from a change of imports with Courtney Alexander II and Taj Benning coming in to replace Carter Skaggs and Paschal Chukwu, and with Kieran Berry on deck as a new guard, it’s largely a similar Cougars squad back again to look to continue the upward trajectory in 2023.
First up for Cockburn is a clash with a Willetton team who has loaded up for a rejuvenated 2023 season under former Cougars coach Adam Nener.
Willetton has added 333-game NBL veteran and Australian basketball great Mark Worthington who has come out of retirement along with the Tigers signing Brisbane Bullets big man Gorjok Gak and adding new import Darnell Hoskins Jr.
With Damien Scott, Michael Vigor, Andrew Black and Hunter Clarke among those returning for Willetton and Cougars coach Andrew Cooper is fully aware of the challenge they will present come Saturday night.
“I think the Gak signing is a huge pickup for Willo. They’ve done really well there and he’s a massive emerging talent,” Cooper said.
“Wortho is Wortho and if anyone isn’t aware of what he’s capable of then they’ve had their head in the sand for way too long.
“They still Vigor too obviously so they will need to work out how to work those guys together, I assume Wortho might come off the bench early in the piece to get his minutes that way.
“They’re going to be tough, there’s no doubt about it, and they’ve added good pieces with Hunter Clarke back again.
“It’s going to be a tough hit out for us first up and it’s certainly a good introduction for Courtney who doesn’t know the league that well to run into these guys early and get a bit of a smack in the face no doubt.
“Hopefully we can still produce enough to come out on the other side and get ready for the next one.”
Limited tickets for the Saturday 1 April match up are still available online HERE