Champion Sharks boast strong roster

Alex Pledger
Alex Pledger
Only one thing has eluded the Southland Sharks in recent years - a successful title defence.

That is something they will hope to change as they enter their 2019 NBL campaign, beginning tomorrow against the Canterbury Rams in Invercargill.

The champion Sharks return as one of two hot favourites, alongside the Wellington Saints, to take the title.

Both have put together predictably strong rosters.

However, while they have brought home the trophy in 2013, 2015 and 2018, the Sharks are yet to do it twice in a row.

Their depth may not be quite as impressive as past years, but their top-end will give them every chance of retaining the title.

New captain Alex Pledger is back for a fourth year and will be an important presence inside. The 2.15cm centre has been the league's most dominant New Zealander over the past decade.

Coming off an impressive season with Melbourne United, Pledger found top form after being let go by the New Zealand Breakers.

He provides a genuine post threat on offence, while defensively his protection of the rim and rebounding allow him to control the paint.

A trio of Australian imports provides equally high-calibre talent.

Jarrad Weeks and Mitch McCarron form a deadly backcourt and will likely play big minutes with a lack of depth in the guard spots.

Swingman Todd Blanchfield is also a top signing, adding length and scoring.

Forward Tom Vodanovich would seem a likely fifth-starter. The Breakers development player is back for his second season with the Sharks.

He brings energy and toughness, while also possessing an ever-developing scoring game.

In those forward spots the Sharks should be strong.

Dom Kelman-Poto is a young Kiwi with big potential, while Hyrum Harris is another strong presence who moves south from Hawke's Bay Hawks.

Big man Tai Wynyard could be the wildcard. Once considered one of the country's best prospects, he has played little basketball in recent years.

If he finds his best form he could add another serious weapon inside for the Sharks.

Beneath that they will rely on locals, the most notable being young guard Tom Cowie and veteran Andrew Wheeler.

The Wellington Saints shape as their biggest challengers. They have picked up key swingman Reuben Te Rangi from the Sharks, while also adding shooting big man Rob Loe.

Combined with returning Kiwi trio of Shea Ili, Jordan Ngatai and Leon Henry, that forms a very strong Kiwi core.

Adding Australians Nick Kay - one of the ANBL's best last season - and Sunday Dech will make them very tough to
beat.

The Rams and the Hawks are likely to be title contenders, while the Nelson Giants also have potential to make the top four.

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