Waratah Championship: The Run Home

With just 16 games remaining in the Waratah Championship season, things are really ramping up. The finals teams are almost set, but not quite, and the positions within the top four are also far from set in stone.

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Finals Favourites: Hornsby, Norths

To Play:

Hornsby: Hills (H), Sutherland (A), Illawarra (H)
Norths: 
Manly (H), Comets (H), Illawarra (A), Bankstown (A), Newcastle (H)

Hornsby and Norths will both be playing finals basketball this season, and will almost just as certainly be the teams filling the top two positions. Norths’ main challenge in the final stretch of the season will come against Manly, but even a win for the Sea Eagles there would probably not be enough to give the team from the beaches a chance at overhauling the Bears unless there is a major slip-up from Norths. Hornsby will face a challenge against Sutherland, whom they beat by just two points the first time around, but the Spiders are already locked into a top two spot.

Fighting For Third: Manly, Bankstown

To Play:

Manly: Norths (A), Hills (H), Bankstown (H)
Bankstown: Sutherland (H), Norths (H), Manly (A)

These two teams both sit at 9-4, and play each other on the final day of the regular season. If the season goes to form to that point, both teams will be 10-5 going into that game, meaning it could be a winner-take-all contest for 3rd place. If we see Bankstown sitting a game behind Manly going into that fixture, the Bruins will have to win by 5 points or more to overturn the deficit from Manly’s victory in the earlier game between the two teams this season, and it may also be the case that Bankstown need to win that game to survive a possible late charge from Sutherland anyway.

Barely Clinging On: Sutherland

To Play:

Sutherland: Newcastle (H), Hornsby (H), Bankstown (A), Comets (A)

Sutherland aren’t out of the finals race…yet. They might be 3 games back on Manly and Bankstown after the weekend’s results, but if they can conjure some good results and things fall their way, they may just be able to sneak into the finals at Bankstown’s expense. In their favour is Bankstown’s tough run home and the fact that they also play the Bruins, but every scenario that ends in Sutherland playing finals basketball relies on Bankstown losing all of their remaining games or Sutherland overturning their 20 point deficit in the season series when the teams next face off. Sutherland have already lost the season series to Manly, and with the Sea Eagles taking on 8th placed Hills in the coming weeks, there really is little chance of the Sharks being able to jump the Sea Eagles at this point. With a double-header against Newcastle and Hornsby, this weekend is pivotal for Sutherland if they are to make a late charge to the finals.

Building For Next Season: Newcastle, Comets, Hills, Illawarra

To Play:

Newcastle: Sutherland (A), Hills (A), Norths (A)
Comets: Norths (A), Hills (A), Sutherland (H)
Hills: Hornsby (A), Manly (A), Newcastle (H), Comets (H), Illawarra (A)
Illawarra: Norths (H), Hornsby (A), Hills (H)

With three weeks to play, four teams are out of finals contention and already looking to next season to improve their standing in the league. Newcastle secured a few wins with Suzy Batkovic in the side, but with a spectacular run home required, the curtain has unfortunately fallen early on the Hunters’ season with regards to reaching the postseason. However, as a club just one season removed from a championship, a history of developing elite players, and a number of products currently in the WNBL (Katie-Rae Ebzery, Suzy Batkovic, and Lara McSpadden are signed for the upcoming season), Newcastle continue to have plenty to be proud of regardless of their standing in the Waratah Championship.

Comets have done their best to provide some nuisance value to the more fancied teams, but in the end have come up short on most occasions. The team from Alexandria may pick up four or five wins by the end of the season, but will require some personnel improvements next season if they are to make a push for the finals. It is also worth noting that Comets are not fielding a Youth League team this season, so it is a bit of a mystery as to if we will see some younger players graduating to the Championship side in the short-term.

Hills were always going to find it tough this season with an exceedingly young squad, and it has proved to be as such as the young Hornets side has secured just one victory to this point. Despite this, the continued emergence of the likes of Madison Hare and Sydney Uni Sparks squad member Sherrie Calleia has certainly been a positive for the team. It may be a long road back to the top for Hills, although the Hornets can at least be buoyed by the solid performances to this point of their Youth League side, which sits firmly in the playoff positions.

Of this quartet, Illawarra’s future appears to be the most interesting. Katherine and Liisa Ups will finish their time in college at Buffalo midway through next season, as will Georgia Ohrdorf at Metro State. Ohrdorf has already stepped in for a few games this season and dominated on occasion, and both Katherine and Liisa Ups were impact players even before they left for college in 2014. Then there is the question of the return of the likes of Courtney Dean, Katina Mandylaris, and Renae Garlepp, who did not play this season. The issue that remains is how many of these players will actually be back for Illawarra next season. Obviously the higher the number, the better things will be for the Kittyhawks, but for now there remains only a question mark. Hopefully, for the sake of both the Kittyhawks and the league, that number is high.

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