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Moving forward

Pre-season is a time filled with hope and expectations for most teams, but it’s also a time to ensure that past mistakes are not repeated. This is especially true for the Cairns Taipans. After an exciting run all the way to the NBL Grand Final Series in the 2014/15 season, last year was supposed to be about taking that next step and bringing home the hardware to North Queensland. It’s no secret that Head Coach Aaron Fearne and his troops were not at all happy with how things went as they failed to even make it back to the Finals. “We’ve left it in the past,” Cam Gliddon told NBL Media on Thursday following a preseason game against Melbourne. “We were very disappointed with how last year went.” Fearne concurred and he and CEO Mark Beecroft went about taking steps to address their shortcomings. “You couldn’t continue to keep doing the same thing and getting the same result, so you’ve got to make some changes,” Fearne told NBL.com.au on Thursday. Every team has natural attrition year on year, but it’s the teams that make subtle changes that tend to maintain success and Fearne acknowledged that. “Obviously the teams that have had success here in the league have had an amazing ability to keep a core group together and they just keep building on what they’ve put in place over years of being together.” The Taipans have tried to take that approach as much as possible and will sport four familiar and veteran faces when the season tips off next month. Alex Loughton and Stephen Weigh return along with Mark Worthington in his second year in North Queensland and Cam Gliddon, fresh off his experience with the Boomers at their training camp before Rio. However, the other members of the squad will be largely unknown in Cairns and most of them are new to the league. “Look it’s definitely challenging,” Fearne admitted. “But a lot of teams have made a lot of changes; a lot of new faces, so we’re all fairly similar.” “We’ve got new guys that are hungry, Australians and Americans, and we’re gelling quite well”, said Gliddon. “The progress we’ve been making over the last few weeks has been very good.” Cairns made changes to address certain deficiencies from last season and there have been some positives already from that in some of their preseason games. “We needed to get more athletic and quicker,” said Fearne. “We were too slow last year and with my style of coaching you need to have that ability to defend people and you need some quickness and athleticism to do that.” The Taipans have added three new imports in Travis Trice, Fuquan Edwin and Nnanna Egwu, all new to the league, as is young Australian talent Mitch McCarron. All bring athleticism and an ability to defend. In addition, they’ve brought in extra athleticism and speed in “Agent 97” himself, Jarrad Weeks, who will help to address those needs in the second unit for Fearne. And finally, ex-Boomer and international star, Nate Jawai has returned to North Queensland to give the Taipans an interior presence that has been lacking in years’ past. How those new faces get integrated into the club and the community will in many ways be the responsibility of the returning veterans. Gliddon, Weigh and Worthington form the leadership group and will need to lead by example if this team is to find success again. Weigh told NBL Media that they’ve been living and breathing it for months already. “All offseason, myself and the veteran guys, [there’s been] a big emphasis on culture,” explained Weigh. “We’re one of the smaller clubs in terms of budget and already we’re touted as underdogs, so every little facet of the game we need to be on top of.” “We’ve had quite a large turnover this offseason of new players,” Weigh continued. “I think whichever team gets those players integrated as quickly as possible is going to have the upper edge coming into the first game.” Doing that requires a cohesive unit which can only come from the leadership group setting the tone and working with the group to establish a culture and team values. That is exactly what Gliddon, Weigh and Worthington have been focused on in Cairns this preseason. “We’ve all sat down and established our team values and team goals,” Weigh explained. “Obviously Wortho has quite a big voice around the group. His experience speaks for itself but I think everyone has free reign to kind of pipe up when they see it’s necessary. Our team cultural meeting, our value meetings with our team psychologist, Jodii Maguire, everyone’s involved. It’s not just us three guys. Every single guy is in there and we’re all nutting it out and trying to figure out our identity at this time of year, so everyone has a voice.” Gliddon knows that having those veteran voices is important in making sure that nothing is being taken for granted and coming into his second year with Boomers veteran Mark Worthington as his teammate means they’re more comfortable in working together as leaders of the group. “He’s [Worthington] got a wealth of experience. Him, myself and Stevey Weigh are the leadership group right now and I think we tick all the boxes,” explained Gliddon. “Weighsy is the recovery guy that makes sure everyone’s doing the right thing off the court, I’m kind of the vocal leader on the court and Wortho’s just there to offer a lot of advice to Weighsy and myself, so I think we’ve got a nice little balance going on.” Getting everyone on the same page early is something the leadership group knows will be important. Establishing roles early, on top of those team values, will allow the team to build cohesion and momentum as quickly as possible. “It happens year by year that teams come out with an all-star jam packed roster yet don’t perform to their full ability,” said Weigh. “I think a large part of that is due to guys not accepting their roles. We’ve got veterans who’ve been in the league a long time and their roles have been minimalised and that’s just how it’s going to have to be. These new guys coming into the league are going to have to adapt their roles quickly and just be a part of this team going forward. So that’s a huge part of what we’re trying to achieve.” Having respected veterans who can set the tone and share their experiences is a big part of any successful group and Gliddon is hoping his offseason experience at the Boomers training camp can play a part in getting this team back to Finals contention. “It gave me a lot of confidence,” Gliddon admitted. “I think it’ll definitely help me out this year, especially with the leadership role I’m in. I think you get a bit of respect being in that group.” Leadership is something Fearne is looking for from the talented wing, now entering his fifth season in Cairns, and he’s shown improvement every year he’s been in the league. However, Fearns is also looking for Gliddon to take on additional responsibility with this group. “I want him to accept more of a responsibility to go out there and score the ball, demand excellence from his teammates,” Fearne said of Gliddon. “I use that word responsibility. All the great players in every sport in the world have that responsibility to go out and perform every game. That’s the expectation of the coaches, the fans, the club, the teammates. Your teammates expect you to go out there as a leader and perform every single game and it takes a lot of responsibility to do that and they’re looking at you when you don’t, because that’s what they expect.” As someone who’s seen the ups and downs with this club, Weigh agrees. “I think the most important thing is just to lead by example,” said Weigh. “Cam does a great job, we all do a great job at just getting out there and doing what we know; working hard and just chipping away day by day.” How Gliddon handles that responsibility may just determine if the Taipans are to return to the postseason and get over that final hump. “That’s definitely on him this year to really take that on board more than he has in the past, so I’ve no question he’ll accept that challenge.” Fearne continued. “I’ve seen it already just in the maturity of him over time, so I’m looking forward to a very good year from him.”  
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