The Cockburn Cougars finish the NBL1 West regular season on Friday night against the Kalamunda Eastern Suns at Wally Hagan Stadium with the women attempting to make history and the men will be part of history.
It’s the final night of the 2023 regular season and the Cougars will be at home to the Eastern Suns with the women’s match up to take place at 6.30pm followed by the men’s clash at 8.30pm.
To confirm a first ever regular season championship the Cockburn Cougars women just need to beat the Kalamunda Eastern Suns at Wally Hagan Stadium on Friday night.
However, it’s going to be a significant test with the Eastern Suns arriving knowing they need to win themselves to secure a playoff appearance or else a loss will leave them vulnerable of missing out altogether.
That sets the stage for a fascinating way to finish the regular season with Cockburn coming into the contest in first place on the NBL1 West table with a 17-2 record having won the last two matches against the Goldfields Giants and South West Slammers by a combined 110 points.
A win on Friday night and the Cougars will be guaranteed of finishing in first place at the end of the regular season for the first time in the women’s competition.
It’s likely to still happen even with a loss with Willetton needing to beat the Slammers and make up the 14 per cent differential between the two teams, but stranger things have happened.
The Eastern Suns, meanwhile, will arrive at Wally Hagan Stadium having won their past two matches to improve to an 8-11 record to now occupy eighth position.
A lot of that has been on the back of the outstanding form of import guard Natalie Chou with the Suns needing the win to lock in a playoff spot or else be relying on the Lakeside Lightning losing to the Mandurah Magic at the same time.
For Cougars coach Tyrone Thwaites, he couldn’t ask for a much better hit out heading into the playoffs.
“Knowing that they have to win and are playing for their lives on Friday night is a great thing for us,” Thwaites said.
“It means we’ve got a game on our hands, and that’s exactly what you want coming into the playoffs. That’s what I’ve spoken about with our group and I suspect we’ll be ready to go.”
The Cockburn Cougars and Kalamunda Eastern Suns will both head into Friday night’s clash at Wally Hagan Stadium disappointed to be out of finals contention, but they won’t be short on motivation to try to end 2023 on a high.
Neither team might still be a chance to play finals this season going into this last game, but it’s still going to be an historic occasion with Seb Salinas to play his 513th game in the league which will see him set a new record surpassing the 512 of Cougars legend Troy Clarke.
It’s only fitting the occasion will happen on the actual Troy Clarke Court at Wally Hagan Stadium with Salinas reaching 513 games having put together his career at the Warwick Senators, Joondalup Wolves and now the Eastern Suns, and winning two championships along the way including one as captain.
So that makes for quite the special occasion on Friday night with both teams also looking to end their seasons on a winning note.
For a lot of the second half of this season it had been shaping up that this game could very well end up being a battle to sneak into eighth spot, but it hasn’t quite eventuated that way.
The Cougars have now lost four of the last five games to slip out of contention at 8-13 while the Suns are now also 8-13 having lost five in-a-row including the last two to the Goldfields Giants and East Perth Eagles by a combined 80 points.
While Cougars coach Andrew Cooper is obviously disappointed to not be fighting for a finals spot on Friday night, he does want to ensure his team gives their all to finish on a winning note.
“I’ve spoken to the players because I have work commitments this week so I won’t be at training, but I’ll be at the game and I’ve said to the players that there’s no secret we can’t make finals,” Cooper said.
“But that doesn’t mean that we’re not going to try to finish the season on a high and it’s much better to finish the season by winning that last game than losing it because that’s the one you remember like any tournament.
“That will certainly be our focus to come out and put on a show at our home court for the last game of the season on the back of the girls having a really successful season.
“We’d like to at least show what we can put out but we’ve still got some injuries and I won’t be putting anyone out there who won’t be able to play at 100 per cent.
“It might give some more opportunities for younger guys and we’ll certainly still play our style of basketball, but there might be a few changes here and there and further opportunities for the kids.”
As for the occasion of Salinas breaking the men’s games played record on Friday night, Cooper will be the first to wish him luck before the game and congratulate him afterwards, but there’ll be no room for sentiment in between.
“For Seb, it’s a big thing and I think under different circumstances it might be a bit more special especially for his team and even for our team,” Cooper said.
“For me personally and our team, we’ll certainly respect for everything he’s done but we’ll still be doing our very best to knock them off at the same time. It won’t be without a congratulations and well done before and after the game for him though.”