Thunder hit the road in vital two-game trip

BRAD COLE   THE ADVOCATE   It’s not quite season-defining, but North-West Tall Timbers Thunder assistant coach Nick Haywood is acutely aware of the importance of this weekend’s pair of games.

The Thunder set off on just their second two-game road trip in 2018, heading to Sandringham on Saturday night before backing up to play Nunawading on Sunday afternoon.

They currently occupy sixth spot on the ladder with an 8-5 record, and a favourable visit to the mainland could go a long way to sewing up a finals spot.

However two losses will put them on the brink of dropping out of the top eight, with a host of quality teams currently around the same mark and more snapping at their heels.

“There is a real logjam in the middle of the ladder still but if we can score two wins it will certainly put us ahead of them, so it’s a huge weekend for us,” Haywood said 

“We will be really going after the win at Sandringham on Saturday night, because Nunawading on Sunday will be very tough.

“Even if we split the road trip, it just gives us that little bit more breathing room.”

While the Sabres are all but out of finals contention with just four wins from 14 games this season, they cannot be underestimated after coming off two consecutive wins which included an impressive 19-point victory over third-placed Ballarat last week.

The Thunder defeated them 93-78 earlier in the season at Ulverstone, but Haywood said they are a far more formidable unit now.

“Like a lot of teams, they are a lot more polished now than when we played them earlier this year,” he said. 

“Dave Barlow has signed another NBL contract and is playing really well, Nathan Crosswell is playing well and they’ve brought in another big in Reggis Onwukamuche who is also handy.”

Sunday’s game at Nunawading pits them against a team containing six players averaging between 10 and 20 points per including seasoned SEABL talent such as Shane McDonald, Simon Conn and former Thunder player Tom Wright.

With a reasonable record against the top teams this season, Haywood is hoping that can translate to an improved showing away from home.

“Apart from the game against Hobart, every other game against the top eight teams we’ve been really competitive,” Haywood said. 

“But we haven’t been great on the road and that’s what our focus has been this week.

“Our boys just haven’t clicked together yet, but hopefully this weekend is the turning point.”

In team news, reserve centre Paul Campbell (achilles) and point guard Mason Bragg (knee) both sat out Tuesday night’s NWBU games to rest, with Haywood cautious about declaring them certain starters for the trip.

“Mason is a bit banged up and Paul is going alright but we will see how they pull up from training on Thursday night,” Haywood said.

“Hopefully they come good after practice and can both contribute on the weekend, but if we only use Paul for the Sandringham game, then so be it.”

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