Northern Exposure

Northern Exposure

The success of any sporting team, especially one competing in a national competition, doesn’t happen overnight. 

Just arriving at the start line can take years of planning, and even longer visualising. 

It’s why the Darwin Salties can’t wait to play in front of their home crowd this weekend.

“I was still in high school when I wanted to create a Darwin team at some point,” said Salties’ star CJ McCarthy-Grogan.

CJ and teammate Tom O’Neill-Thorne had spent years playing in the NWBL but competing at the highest level meant playing interstate and overseas.

“It wasn’t really until COVID where I came back from the US from college and Tom came back from Spain and we were both back in Darwin together, just training for about a year and a half together. And that’s where it all sort of unfolded really.”

“We did so many community engagement visits with schools and doing different programs at the Darwin Basketball Association. They gave us the keys to the car, they said there you go, take it away and they were just ready to back up with whatever we felt was needed to help promote the sport. And you know we’ve done plenty of school visits where we actually didn’t even take any basketball chairs. It was just going to school visits to share our story.”

“It just got to a point where we got so much interest from people wanting to participate. We were able to have the Team Tom versus Team CJ exhibition match at a crucial period of COVID really because there was nothing going on. We were able to draw such big attention to the game of wheelchair basketball.”

The Salties entered the NWBL in 2022. In 2023 they were able to claim the team’s first piece of silverware at the Wheelchair Leagues Cup in Brisbane. Their win helped raise the profile of the club even further and has locals eagerly anticipating their first home round this weekend.

“It wasn’t just about winning a national championship last year that was just the icing on the cake. That’s just the symbol of everything that we’ve worked towards creating the club, and everything that Tom’s done throughout his career and my career and not just to us as individuals. It’s rewarding to our families and our friends and our support networks that have helped both of us get to where we are today.”

“Now that we’ve got a full season, it’s very exciting because now we can actually get more sponsors on board because over the last couple of years there’s been plenty of people reaching out, wanting to come watch us play, people wanting to help volunteer and support us in every way possible.”

Round three against the Wheelcats will be the Salties first regular season round and only one to date outside of Finals back in 2022.

“That first season it was Tom, CJ and Melissa, that was the three,” recalled Salties’ coach Jason Ivinson.  

“I was doing an individual with three people. And then we’d get to the game and meet half the team, and then two weeks later, meet half the team again and play. And that’s pretty much where we struggled in that first season.” 

This time round their playing group has been able to spend more time together both on and off the court.

“We’ve actually got a few of the guys living up in Darwin for the season,” added McCarthy-Grogan.

“Reo and his wife have come over which is great.”

“Jaylen has moved up from Victoria, and Jannik’s back from Germany as well so it’s great having the three of them there. We’ve got seven or eight players and we’ll probably have a few fly in, fly out depending on home rounds that will hopefully provide a bit more chemistry and consistency.”

“The dream is eventually that we can have a whole team coming from the NT,” said Ivinson.

“I’d love to be able to find an athlete who’s a kid living at Barolula or somewhere like that. I want to have the pathway so that we’ve got the young kids coming to the young wheelies program that we can go, OK, we’ve identified you, we’re going to train you now for the next year or two in this so that you’re able to step into a Salties wheelchair program.” 

“We want to make it much easier for the next generation, whether it’s the next generation or people that might acquire their disability later in life and show them ‘Hey there is a sport which is here for you,” added McCarthy-Grogan.

The Salties host the Perth Wheelcats at Ventia Stadium on Saturday, 29th June at 9.00am and 4.00pm and on Sunday, 30th June at 12.00pm (ACST). Their 4pm Saturday game will be live streamed on the WBA Youtube channel.