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NZ Breakers v Melbourne United Game Preview

When: 5.30pm (AEST), Friday 7 October Where: Vector Arena, Auckland Broadcast: NBL TV; Fox Sports; Sky Sports NZ Melbourne rebooted What does Melbourne United star Chris Goulding expect from the new-look Breakers when they open the season at Auckland’s Vector Arena on Friday night? Last season’s runners-up have lost Cedric Jackson, Charles Jackson and Tai Wesley, and were without key men Kirk Penney and Corey Webster at the Australian Basketball Challenge (ABC), making them somewhat of a mystery team. “You know what you’re going to get when you go to New Zealand, a well-drilled team that plays tough, so we’ll be expecting that,” Goulding said. “But as far as how it all fits together we won’t really know until we get there.” Melbourne were destroyed by the Breakers in last season’s semi-final sweep – pulling in 13 less offensive rebounds in the 2-0 sweep – something that still stings Goulding a little. “Yeah, but there’s nothing you can do about it now,” he said. “We went out there and certainly addressed some areas we thought we needed to address and get better in. The proof’s in the pudding so we won’t know until we get started, but we’re happy with the team we’ve got.” Possession is king The recruitment of Jackson and Wesley from NZ, and Boomers stalwart David Andersen from Europe made the headlines, but perhaps just as important is the signing of energetic 22-year-old import Devin Williams, who recorded 15 NCAA double-double last season. “There’s days at practice where he’s unstoppable rebounds-wise,” Goulding said. “He competes at a really high level and if he can do that … every time he’s out there, with his size and skillset he’ll be able to be successful in this league.” The site of a posse of rugged bigs, including Majok Majok and Wesley, getting down and dirty each day at training gives Goulding hope there’ll be more than enough possessions for United’s talented roster to capitalise on. “Those were the areas we wanted to address a little bit, a bit more aggressiveness, grunt down low and I think we’ve got that,” he said. “They go hard at each other at training, they bang and try and outrebound each other, you know Majok ain’t no slouch either. It’s good to have them down there providing that bit of grunt.” Kirk returns It’s been more than five years since Kirk Penney pulled on a Breakers singlet, when foreign players like CJ Bruton, Kevin Braswell and Gary Wilkinson were the headline-makers. Upon Penney’s return the Breakers’ roster is made up almost entirely of Kiwis – with Corey Webster, Tom Abercrombie and Mika Vukona the lynchpins – and that warms Kirk’s heart. “It’s so cool, it’s just so cool to see the development of all those players,” he said. “Those guys have gone from strength to strength and now we’ve got a new crop coming through, you saw Finn Delany in the pre-season tournament really start to show what he can do.” With many new faces on the NZ roster, Penney said the Breakers “have a lot of work to do”, but shows almost disdain for those picking his team to slide down the ladder. “Who’s doing the tipping? What contribution do they have to the games. It’s meaningless really, I don’t even know who they're picking for the top four, we’ll just come together as a group as we always do,” he said. “We’ve got a core group of players who’ve shown themselves to be winners in this league, and I think a lot of strength will be drawn on from them and a lot of experience passed on from them.” Stars on show Vukona and Abercrombie have started on four championship teams, Penney has played in almost every league on the planet worth mentioning, while Webster is unstoppable when his shot is dropping. The question marks are how Alex Pledger returns from injury, how Rob Loe adjusts to the NBL and what sort of contribution new imports Ben Woodside and newly-crowned dunk champion Akil Mitchell can make.   As for Penney, the NBL’s fourth-leading scorer last season, in the shadows of his 36th birthday he has a special message for Melbourne’s defence. “I’m really old, I’m not very good, I won’t do much out there, so play me that way,” he laughed. Of course, he’ll be determined to put on a clinic in his first ever home game at the cavernous Vector Arena, and with the likes of Webster, Abercrombie, Mitchell, Andersen, Jackson, Goulding and Williams also on show, this could be an opening-round classic. “It will be cool to play at Auckland’s best stadium and hopefully have a really good product for the Kiwi fans to get behind again,” Penney said.
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