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The Southland Sharks have tipped over the Wellington Saints to notch up Southland’s third NBL title since it entered the league for the first time in 2010.
Yesterday’s grand final in Wellington was one for the ages with the Sharks leading by 16 at halftime before that margin was reduced to just one in the fourth quarter.
The Sharks had to hang tight to claim the intense but deserving 98-96 victory.
After racking up a remarkable 67 first-half points, the Sharks made just 31 second-half points as they started to wobble.
They had done enough early in the game, though, to deliver a result that had Southlanders glowing with pride as the final whistle sounded. Some members of the team will arrive with the NBL trophy at the Invercargill Airport at 1pm today and coach Judd Flavell said the people of Southland deserved it.
"I’m proud of being part of this club. There’s great people, from the players, to the management, to the fans; it is so special.
"I feel like [the fans] deserve this.
"We went out there on the court but there is plenty of people off the court who made this happen. They deserve to taste this success," Flavell said.
The Sharks went about winning the finals series without, arguably, their most important cog in their attack as Australian import Jarrad Weeks played a very limited role in the finals victory.
Weeks pulled up lame with a hamstring injury during the week and was touch-and-go to start the semifinal against the Nelson Giants on Saturday night.
It was decided just before tip-off he would sit it out and the plan worked out as the Sharks beat the Giants 98-93 and Weeks gained another day of rest before the final.
Weeks started yesterday’s final but it was obvious he was not right and he ended up playing just six minutes.
However, his absence simply highlighted the Sharks’ impressive depth as others on the roster stepped up to the mark. None more so than captain Reuben Te Rangi, who was named MVP of the finals series.
Against Wellington, Te Rangi led the scoring with 26, which included hitting five threes from seven attempts as his shooting radar centred on the basket.
"A few of the boys stepped up. We knew we had to step up without Weeksy; he was hurting. It was a good night for me, but all the boys did the job," Te Rangi told the Otago Daily Times.
It is Te Rangi’s second title with the Sharks after he helped Southland etch its name on the trophy in 2013.
He had a stint with the Super City Rangers in 2015 and 2016 before returning last year to reunite with the Sharks.
"To come down here and win this is awesome. Ever since we won in my first year with the Sharks I’ve been wanting this," he said.
- Logan Savory