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R1 Preview: Cairns v Illawarra

On paper, this might look like a game between last year's top placed team against last year's wooden spoon, but don’t be fooled. The Cairns Taipans have been one of the more stable clubs in the off-season, which is quite understandable after their 2014/15 campaign was their most successful in club history. The addition of Mark Worthington makes them immediately better and if the Scottie Wilbekin for Markel Starks import swap is even close, that will be a bonus for the far North Queenslanders. New Illawarra Hawks signing Kirk Penney returns to the venue he last played in 2011 when his Breakers and Taipans fought a classic double overtime thriller.  His backcourt partner Kevin Lisch (former Perth Wildcat) is also a big game player and the three-point potential with sharp shooter Oscar Forman will be forming a deadly combination. The loss of point guard Rhys Martin (knee) will be a big one for the Hawks. Last year the veteran point guard missed the opening six games for Wollongong and the team was a mess. To lose him so close to opening night will be a hurdle for Illawarra who cannot adequately replace his distribution to the shooters. The battle in the paint will be another to watch with 2014 NBL all-Star five centre AJ Ogilvy taking on the Cairns wall that features veterans Matt Burston, Alex Loughton and Cam Tragardh. All are joining Worthington to form a front line equal to any in the League. Six-year Hawks forward Tim Coenraad had a brilliant Blitz as Illawarra’s leading scorer (20 points per game) and he has taken his game to another level. If there was an All-NBL First Team named at the pre-season Blitz, Coenraad would have been a certainty. Look for Stephen Weigh or Torrey Craig to try and curb his contribution. Another fascinating battle will be in the coaches chair with former Hawks coach Gordie McLeod joining forces with reigning NBL Coach of the Year Aaron Fearne to try and mastermind the club McLeod represented as player and coach 393 times. To spice up that battle, former Perth Championship coach Rob Beveridge returns to lead the club he defeated in the 2010 Grand Final. He kept his promise in the pre-season Blitz to be a high scoring team that are fun to watch and lets hope that style continues in the regular season. Both teams are chock full of experience so expect the Hawks to score heavily while the Snakes try and slow them down. These teams have a history of playing out tight encounters and last year’s results were all won by the Taipans by just 2, 4, 7 & 3 points. BY THE NUMBERS

Head-to-head: 53 games played.

Cairns Taipans: 27 wins. Illawarra Hawks: 26 wins.

In Cairns: 21 games played.

Cairns Taipans: 13 wins Illawarra Hawks: 14 wins

2014/15 in Cairns:

Round 7) Taipans by 4 Round 17) Taipans by 3

FAST FACTS

THE OLD SAYING GOES – There are two things you can be sure about in life. Death and taxes Safe now to also list that the Cairns Taipans will win their home opener. That streak has now continued for an incredible 14 years in a row. Cairns have not lost their first home game of the season since November 2000 – their second year in the NBL.

Cairns Home Openers:

12/10/99 Cairns 78 lost to Sydney 104 04/11/00 Cairns 99 lost to West Sydney 103 20/10/01 Cairns 97 def Adelaide 79 04/10/02 Cairns 109 def Brisbane 98 03/10/03 Cairns 84 def New Zealand 73 16/10/04 Cairns 108 def Perth 100 11/09/05 Cairns 105 def Townsville 90 29/09/06 Cairns 103 def Wollongong 101 22/09/07 Cairns 99 def Townsville 75 13/09/08 Cairns 98 def South 92 26/09/09 Cairns 86 def Adelaide 75 23/10/10 Cairns 85 def Adelaide 74 08/10/11 Cairns 81 def Townsville 76 06/10/12 Cairns 84 def Townsville 72 19/10/13 Cairns 86 def New Zealand 85 17/10/14 Cairns 88 def Melbourne 73

SIX OUTTA TEN AIN'T BAD - Six of the ten most experienced players in the League are playing in this game. Illawarra has the oldest player in the League, (Kirk Penney 34 years, 10 months), most experienced player Oscar Forman (420 games) and lead the league in experience (average 168 games per player).

Cairns are the only team that starts this year with more experience than they ended with last year. They are the second most experienced team behind the Hawks (153 games per player) and have five players with more than 200 games under their belt which leads the League.

Average games played: 168.0 – Illawarra Hawks 153.1 – Cairns Taipans 119.5 – Adelaide 36ers 115.9 – Perth Wildcats 106.8 – New Zealand Breakers 88.3 – Sydney Kings 67.0 – Melbourne United 64.6 – Townsville Crocodiles

Most NBL games played: 420 – Oscar Forman (Illawarra) 352 – Matt Burston (Cairns) 335 – Mika Vukona (New Zealand) 326 – Shawn Redhage (Perth) 312 – Adam Gibson (Adelaide) 298 – Cameron Tragardh (Cairns) 286 – Larry Davidson (Illawarra) 279 – Mark Worthington (Cairns) 254 – Rhys Carter (Sydney) 216 – Tyson Demos (Illawarra)

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