Expectations Build For New Look National Leagues

Expectations Build For New Look National Leagues

Bill Latham has called Spain home for so long, conducting interviews in English feels foreign to him. 

But the challenge of a rejuvenated National Wheelchair Basketball League and an almost tailor-made build up to the Paris Paralympics was enough to lure one of Australia’s premier high pointers home.

“Having everyone back to play the season is definitely going to be a great opportunity to show the level that Australia has and I think all the games are going to be quite competitive,” says Latham.

“It’s going to be a great preparation having the twelve to fifteen players that could be selected for the Paralympics, so it’s going to be a really interesting tournament.”

The National Wheelchair Basketball League tips off this weekend with Latham’s Manly Wheel Eagles taking on the Wollongong Roller Hawks. The Adelaide Thunder host the Red Dust Heelers and the Perth Wheelcats host the Southern Districts Spartans. The Darwin Salties have the bye.

After linking with the Roller Hawks in 2023, Steve Elliott is the only addition to the Roller Hawks side that won the national league in 2022. He too is coming off a season in Europe and has been following the return of the NWBL closely.

“We definitely kept an eye on it. We loved listening to all the new teams and all the new players that are coming,” says Elliott. 

It’s great that we’re getting players from overseas but we’re also getting all our European players to come back for the season. In the last few years that hasn’t been happening.”

Teams will play each other three times across the weekend, two games on Saturday and one on Sunday. Every week, each team will play a different side in the same format, resulting in every team playing 18 games across a six round regular season culminating in a Final Four at Shellharbour City Stadium, on August 10 & 11.

The Women’s National Wheelchair Basketball League tips off on June 22 & 23 with Perth Wheelcats hosting Queensland Comets and Sydney Blues hosting Sydney Uni Flames. The women will follow the same three game format across three rounds for a total of nine regular season games to decide seedings for the Finals.

The Blue’s Georgia Munro-Cook says her team is preparing well and having a national league back is important to the future of the sport and the Australian program.

“I think it was really crucial to my development, getting high quality games coming through almost immediately against other women. It’s one of the few places in Australia that’s a women only event and competition, so that’s super important,” says Munro-Cook.

“With it not being around for the last couple of years, I think it’s really hindered the Gliders’ development. We had players come to our world championships who’d hardly been able to play any competitive games at that level and I think bringing it back is just going to be huge for us going forward.”

The Blues take on crosstown rivals the Sydney Uni Flames in Round 1, Australian Gliders captain Hannah Dodd returns to the Flames while also pulling double duty for the Roller Hawks.

“We’ve got some really good experience but we’ve also got some young new players coming through to develop so that’s really exciting for us. We’ve got a couple of new faces on our team so it will be interesting to see how they fit into our squad and what we can do to bring out the best in their game,” says Dodd.

“I’m really excited to see four teams back in. I’m really excited to see a lot of new faces in those teams. I think that’s really exciting for our future as women’s basketball.”