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R2 Preview: Perth v New Zealand

The winners of the last six NBL Championships face up in the first game of the season at Perth Arena tonight, with the Perth Wildcats and the New Zealand Breakers set to battle in the Jungle. The Wildcats and the Breakers have the most intense rivalry of any two clubs in the past decade, and their series throughout the 2015/16 NBL season is set to be war. Last year, the Breakers headed West for the season opener without much hope. The Wildcats were unfurling their sixth Championship banner while New Zealand did not even make the semi-finals that season. That game was all over at half-time with the visitors up 49-26 in a disappointing first up home display for the Western Australians. Cedric Jackson was the destroyer with 22 points and five assists. Fast forward to February, just one week before the playoffs. Perth were looking winners with a handy three-quarter time lead over New Zealand. In another ‘never say die’ performance, the visitors stormed home in a classic that went to double overtime, and was decided by a buzzer beater from behind the halfway line by none other than Cedric Jackson that silenced the 13,000 fans in attendance. He finished that night with 22 points and six assists. The one message that should be taken from these results is that New Zealand can never be counted out. They are the defending Champions and will be ready for this one. Jackson heads to Perth following a poor game against Illawarra. What should have been his 100th game celebration proved to be nothing but a nightmare - the Breakers were hurt by former club great Kirk Penney and this week, they match against Tall Black Jarrod Kenny up for the first time, who will start at guard with the likely injury disruption to Damien Martin. Injury has also played a part in the Breakers spasmodic form with captain Mika Vukona missing two games in a row for the first time in his career and Alex Pledger slowly returning from his toe complaint. They will need to be at their best to face Nathan Jawai and the big Wildcats front line. It was Perth’s defense that was most impressive in their opening game last week. They held Adelaide to just 66-points in a wrestle that required heroics from Jermaine Beal in the 4th quarter to draw away. Impressively, Perth had eight players grab at least four rebounds and that will again be a key in Perth’s game plan. A proud club like Perth will be well aware that New Zealand swept them in all four games last season for the first time ever. As Perth start their campaign for an amazing 30 consecutive trips to the playoffs, this one is personal. BY THE NUMBERS

Head-to-head: 47 games played Perth Wildcats: 24 wins New Zealand Breakers: 23 wins

 In Perth: 22 games played Perth Wildcats: 16 wins New Zealand Breakers: 6 wins

2014/15 at Perth: Round 1) Breakers by 10 Round 19)Breakers by 2

FAST FACTS

NEW LOW - Last year New Zealand swept Perth 4-0 in the regular season. It was the first time the Wildcats had lost to the Breakers in every game in a season.

THE JUNGLE - This will be the fourth year that the Wildcats have played at Perth Arena. They have lost the opening game of the year in two of the three season openers they have played so far.

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