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Cougars Preview | NBL1 West Round 1

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The stage is set for an exciting opening to the NBL1 West season for the Cockburn Cougars with the women beginning their championship defence while raising the banner on Thursday night before the new-look men’s team look to make an early impression.

The 2024 NBL1 West season gets underway on Thursday night leading into Easter and for the Cougars that means a match up with the Mandurah Magic at a sold out and new look Wally Hagan Stadium.

The women’s contest will open proceedings from 6.30pm with the men’s game to follow at 8.30pm.


On the back of last year’s historic first women’s championship, the Cockburn Cougars now enter an NBL1 West season for the first ever time defending a title that gets underway with a preliminary final rematch on Thursday night.

There is quite the rivalry building between the Cougars and Magic in the women’s competition and it’s now set to be a fascinating start to the season for both teams on Thursday at Wally Hagan Stadium.

The teams last met in the preliminary final last year where the Cougars beat the Magic also at Wally Hagan Stadium to book in their spot in the Grand Final which they went on to win against the Willetton Tigers.

While Cockburn beat Mandurah by 13 points in that preliminary final, it was the Magic who handed them their first loss of the season last year. That was one of just two games the Cougars lost in 2023.

Even after a championship, like any season there has been changes to the Cougars team coming into the 2024 season with the additions of import pair Daniel Raber and Maria Blazejewski along with Perth Lynx WNBL veteran guard Alex Ciabattoni and Regan Turnour-McCarty who spent last season at the Goldfields Giants.

They join a team still featuring the likes of Jessie Edwards, Jewel Williams, Steph Gorman, Amelia Corasaniti and Kinley Paterson.

It might not be a Cougars team quite at full strength to start the season, but the same can be said for the Magic even though they are still well served by a core group featuring Casey Mihovilovich, Rachel Halleen, Kelly Bailey, Rachel Pettit and returning sisters Bree Mullenax and Emma Klasztorny.

For reigning championship winning coach and NBL1 West Coach of the Year Tyrone Thwaites, he has a mixture of feelings coming into the new season and is fully aware of the challenge the Magic present no matter who they have available.

“Like any other season I think, there’s always a little bit of the unknown, a bit of excitement and there’s a few nerves that creep before that first game, and I can’t wait to get it underway to be honest,” Thwaites said.

“We know Mandurah’s going to be tough. They will be very physical, it’s what they do, and they beat us a couple of times by doing exactly that so it’s our job to be prepared and a little bit more ready than they are in that space.

“They are a team that’s been in the top four two years in-a-row for a reason. Even though we know they will be a little bit underdone in terms of personnel, it doesn’t change anything if they come in and be very physical so we know it will be a challenge.

“We also play very well on our home court so that should be to our advantage with a sold out crowd for the championship banner unveiling on Thursday as well.”



Following the women’s contest, the Cockburn Cougars men hit the floor for the first time under a new coach and with some exciting new additions as they look to make early season statement.

Following the women’s game and before the men’s match begins, the Cougars women will have a championship banner ceremony before the men under coach Mark Clayden take centre stage for the first time in 2024.

It was a year of so close yet so far in a lot of ways in 2023 for the Cougars, but it has been an off-season with the changes made bringing great excitement which includes the additions of current or former NBL players Rhys Vague, Kyle Armour and Hunter Clarke.

The Cougars have also added import centre Demetris Morant while Gavin Field, Seva Chan, Nathan Pond, Josh Hunt and Hayden Bell are among the players back for another season with Matt Clifford back and Charlie Dimmock an emerging player ready to take the next step.

The first up challenge for the Cougars is a Magic team also ready to have a bounce back season in 2024 with Mark Utley remaining as coach with a team that includes former Cockburn championship winner Julian Pesava and new import Michael Durr.

Mandurah has also signed Jarrod Molnar, Lachlan Bertram, Dion Collins, Corey Easley and Harrison Klasztorny, and what Clayden knows above everything else is that Magic coach Utley will have his team ready for battle on Thursday night.

“We know they’ll be really well coached and Utley is just such a good guy, and a smart coach,” Clayden said.

“I saw him up at the Joondalup game and he talked to me about our import not being there yet when he’s had his for three weeks already so that helps them be that little bit settled.

“We’re not sure if Taj will be there for them or not but hopefully he will still be coming out for them because he is a great guy and we loved having him at Cockburn.

“Then they’ve got Jules who is obviously a weapon and he can score at will, and it seems when he sees a Cockburn shirt against him he naturally goes up a notch.

“Then they have other dangerous pieces so we know they will be tough but for Round 1 you don’t know what you’re going into in a lot of ways so you just go out and play, and we just want to focus on ourselves and getting what we want to do right at this point of the season. We just want to control what we can control at the moment.”

Cougars great Gavin Field has announced that the 2024 season will be the last of his glittering career with Cockburn that already has him comfortably among the best to ever pull on a uniform for the club.

His motivation remains as strong as ever to help the Cougars to a successful season in 2024 and while he knows the Magic will be a stern test, he’s confident that his team can off to a promising start.

“Utley always has his teams playing hard so we know to expect that from them and I know Jules will always come out and play well against Cockburn being his home club,” Field said.

“He always wants to prove a point against us and has that little bit of chip against us so we know he’ll come out wanting to make a statement on his old home court. It’s going to be a special night, though, with the girls raising the banner and all those things.

“The game is also sold out so the feel is going to be a little bit different and you just don’t know exactly what to expect from your opposition so it’s hard to prepare for.

“I can’t even figure out who their starters will be so it’s hard to prepare for who you will guard or anything so we just have to have our philosophy set in place and do what we can do, and adjust as the game goes through.”

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