Big things expected of Sharks' local lads

Five locally-based players have been signed to complete the Southland Sharks playing roster.

Andrew Wheeler, Jordan Murphy, Connor Coll, Tinashe Matambanadzo and Tom Cowie all return for the 2019 NBL season.

Among that group is a mixture of experience and youth, which the side hopes will add to its squad.

Wheeler returns for his ninth season and has been part of all three of the franchise's championships.

Coach Judd Flavell said his intensity and presence made him a valuable signing.

''Every year, 'Wheels' is Mr Consistent, bringing the same high level every practice.

''He brings so much from a leadership perspective and out there he is still one hell of a competitor.''

Cowie returns after spending a year in Auckland at Westlake Boys' High School and playing for the New Zealand under-16 side.

One of the most promising players to come from Southland in recent times, he made his Sharks debut as a development player in 2017.

Flavell was pleased to have the 18-year-old guard back in the squad.

''I'm so happy having Tom back in the mix. He's an exciting young prospect with a big future.

''He's going to play a significant role for us this year and will be challenging for court time.

''It's great to see an Invercargill kid out on the floor in a Sharks uniform.''

Coll and Matambanadzo will both be as familiar to fans in Otago as to those in the South.

Both played for the St Kilda Saints in last year's Dunedin club competition, while also being part of the Sharks squad.

Murphy returns for his fifth season as part of the squad.

Flavell knew those players would be crucial and they would probably be called upon more than in the past.

''I said in our very first practice session, what I see in this circle of faces is opportunity.

''Some of these guys are going to get more opportunity than they've ever had.

''We are dependent upon them and, as with all good teams, I'm sure they will rise to the occasion.

''I'm optimistic about that and excited for them at the same time.''

They round out a strong group of eight players headlined by veteran Tall Black centre Alex Pledger.

Classy forward Tom Vodanovich will also be key, while Dom Kelman-Poto, Hyrum Harris and Tai Wynyard join the side for the first time.

In Australians Jarrad Weeks, Mitch McCarron and Todd Blanchfield the Sharks have also secured a very high-calibre import trio.

The Sharks begin their title defence next Sunday against the Canterbury Rams at Stadium Southland.

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