Whether it’s the motivation to get the first win of the NBL1 West season, to make a statement against the reigning champion Rockingham Flames, to bounce back from Sunday’s disappointment or Gavin Field’s milestone, the Cockburn Cougars need to show a response on Friday.
Rightfully there were high expectations on the Cougars men’s team coming into the 2023 NBL1 West season on the back of a fourth place finish in 2022 and the majority of the squad coming back for another crack.
The only changes really at the Cougars were the swap in imports with Courtney Alexander II and Taj Benning arriving to replace Paschal Chukwu and Carter Skaggs with Kieran Berry strengthening the back court in place of Matt Clifford.
However, things haven’t gone to plan so far to start the season for the Cougars with four consecutive losses.
While Cockburn did look good for the most part in competitive efforts against Rockingham and Lakeside, it was the losses to Willetton and Geraldton by a combined 79 points that have left the Cougars desperate to make a stand this Friday night against the Rockingham Flames at Mike Barnett Sports Complex.
That is quite the challenge that awaits the Cougars with the Flames fresh off not only winning the NBL1 West championship last year, but also claiming the national title and having started the 2023 season in even more ominous form.
The Flames have looked virtually invincible so far this season with wins over Willetton, Joondalup, Cockburn and East Perth with Devondrick Walker, Marshall Nelson, new import Jeremy Combs, Tom Jervis and Ryan Godfrey in tremendous form.
Ironically, the closest Rockingham has come to losing this season was against Cockburn at Wally Hagan Stadium back on Easter Thursday.
In that game, the Cougars were looking to bounce back from the first up loss to Willetton by 42 points, and put in a strong showing despite the eventual loss at home to the Flames.
Now it’s an eerily similar situation with Cockburn fresh off a disappointing performance at home to the Buccs on Sunday where they went on lose by 37 points, and now need to bounce back in Rockingham against the Flames this Friday night.
“We did respond well against Rockingham after that Willetton loss, but we’re a little bit Jekyll and Hyde at the moment, and I don’t know which one I’m going to get when we turn up on the day,” coach Andrew Cooper said.
“They will be challenged and we’re going to change things up, and we’ll try to have a bit of fun with it because we have nothing to lose apart from another game of basketball really.
“At the end of the day, if we don’t change some stuff or from a coaching perspective I don’t change some things up then I wouldn’t be doing my job I don’t think. We’ll throw a few things at Rockingham that they might not have seen from us before and certainly give it a red hot crack.
“Then it will come down to the players’ effort and intensity. If we give 100 per cent and we lose to a quality team, then I can just tip my hat and say well done but at least the players would have given what I asked.”
The game will also be the 300th in the league for Cougars captain, championship winner and six-time club MVP Gavin Field.
While Cooper acknowledges what an achievement it is for Field to reach the milestone and for what it means to him and his family, at the same time he’s hoping his team doesn’t need that added motivation to perform well on Friday night.
“We won’t really try to use that as inspiration because that’s an individual thing,” Cooper said.
“Obviously it means quite a bit to Gav and I have the utmost respect for him, and I’m happy for him because it’s a significant milestone for him.
“But at the end of the day, for me it’s about the team and I’m sure Gav cares more about getting the win than just his milestone knowing how competitive he is.
“I think his most important focus will be to helping us get the win and then after that we can sit back, have a drink and say congratulations for the milestones. But to be honest, if we need that for motivation we’ve already lost the game I think.”