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Representing Hawks in Kings Rivalry the Real Thing for Froling

Written for nbl.com.au by Chris Pike

The rivalry with the Sydney Kings is the real deal for Illawarra Hawks forward Sam Froling and he can't wait for it to be renewed on Thursday night, but his love of Wollongong now extends well beyond that hatred of their great rivals.

Froling grew up in Townsville and along with older brother Harry, dreamed of representing the Crocodiles together in the NBL, but when that was taken away as an option, he couldn’t have imagined finding a better alternative than Wollongong and with the Illawarra Hawks.

The left-handed Froling is now in his third season at the Hawks and on the back of a breakout NBL21 campaign where he was a key piece of a team that went within one game of a Grand Final appearance, he is continuing to thrive in #NBL22 under legendary coach Brian Goorjian.

He is feeling at home on and off the court now in Wollongong, but what that also means is that by being fully invested at the Hawks, it also translates into a natural hatred of their big city rivals, the Kings.

The two NSW teams resume their NBL campaigns this Thursday night when they clash at the WIN Entertainment Centre.

While Froling might not have understood the gravity of the rivalry before he got to Wollongong, he certainly is fully invested in it now and makes sure all his new teammates are too.

"Growing up not being from Wollongong and you don't really understand it, but then you come here and the local guys like in my first year we had Dave Andersen and we still have Tim Coenraad and AJ Ogilvy," Froling said. 

"They view it as such a big rivalry and they want to beat Sydney so badly and we kind of learn it off those guys, and then we inherit that. It then becomes our mindset as well that we are the Hawks, representing Wollongong and we have to beat the team from Sydney. 

"We then pass it on to the new group of guys coming through and I think Tyler is starting to pick it up, the same with Justinian and they are learning that this is a big one for us. 

"The fans love it, the fans want us to beat Sydney and it's such a community thing down here that when you play for this team you understand that rivalry so much more. It is a big deal down here."

Froling was front and centre of things spilling over last time the Hawks and Kings met too when he was on the receiving end of Angus Glover losing his cool a little.

That only added spice to the rivalry further especially considering Glover and his Sydney teammate Xavier Cooks are Illawarra locals, and now plenty has been made from the outside ahead of their first clash since that December 11 encounter.

Now coming into Thursday's game, Glover is in doubt to be out there for the Kings but either way, Froling won't be taking any backward steps friendships or no friendships.

"It is a bit funny that so much has been made of it. I've known Angus since I was 15 years old and we are all good," Froling said.

"Whatever happens on the court, stays on the court and I'm not one to hold grudges or be salty about anything. It's cool but if they do come here and are like that on the court then we're not going to back down either no matter who it is."

In the bigger picture, Froling and his Hawks teammates just can't wait to get back on the floor on Thursday to play their first game since losing to the Brisbane Bullets back on December 19.

There has been postponed games and time spent in isolation since then, but Froling is taking the positive viewpoint that they have been able to freshen up, work on some things and get better as a unit.

"We have had heaps of time on court. We did have about 10 days of isolation but then after that from pretty much January 1 we have been able to get out on court all together, and everyone has been free which has been good," Froling said.

"We just have to roll with the punches and we can't know what's going to happen and what's going to change. Everybody behind the scenes is working their hardest to get us games and we are all doing our part, and everyone is doing their part. A lot of it is out of people's control and we just have to take it for what it is, and focus on us and keep on getting better. Then when we get the games in we'll come out firing.

"I'm super excited to get back out there and can't wait. We've just handled it as it's a nice little time to tweak things and work on some of the stuff that we need to fix, and get better on the offensive end together as a team. We've worked on fixing up our defence a little bit too. It's been a nice little bit of time to work on things so I think we've improved and now we are super excited to get back out there and play some games."

Another positive for the Hawks was a chance to celebrate Christmas and New Year without having games to worry about directly before or after. Christmas itself wasn’t overly memorable given they were still in isolation, but still it was a nice change to the norm.

"It is nice to get a little bit of time to celebrate the holiday break even though we were in isolation," Froling said. 

"I'm living with (Dan) Grida and Emmett (Naar) so we had a little bit of a Christmas lunch and everything which was fun. It is nice to celebrate that stuff but I probably would have preferred to still be playing basketball. "

Given Sam isn't living with older brother Harry in Wollongong, they weren’t able to catch up for Christmas but they have been spending plenty of time together and Sam is excited to be living out their boyhood dream of playing together in the NBL.

"I didn’t see Harry on Christmas Day because we're not living together, but we got to catch up just after and have been hanging out with him a fair chop," he said.

"It's really cool playing with him too and it's a lot of fun. I've never really played that much with him other than the local comp in Townsville when we were young. 

"It's been a lot of fun to get out there on the court with him and to play with him, and to have him around and watch him get better too. I don’t think he was too happy with his last couple of years so to see him getting in good shape and starting to play well is pretty cool."

Not only are the Froling brothers embracing playing together, they are key parts of this Hawks team and major pieces of the frontcourt. That's something Sam is proud of especially when it's the legendary coach Brian Goorjian showing such faith in the Townsville boys.

"I think that four spot is primarily me and Harry playing in it so it's cool that Goorj has that trust in us to let us run that a little bit. It is fun having me and him being a big part of this team and hopefully we can be a big part of its success going forward too.

"The first year was a little disappointing with injury and we weren’t too good, but then Goorj rolls in and it's basically a whole different mindset. I am very appreciative of the faith that he has shown in me and to let me kind of go out there and do my thing. 

"It just gives you an absolute boost of confidence before every game when you know you've got that faith from the greatest coach of all-time for you to do well. It's definitely a special thing and not something I take for granted."

How well things are going for Froling on the court at the Hawks are now obvious with him being one of the best all-round big men in the league who is capable of scoring, shooting, defending, blocking shots and being strong on the boards, but life off the court is in a good place too.

Froling couldn’t be happier with the home away from home he's now made for himself in Wollongong, and in a lot of ways, it's the closest thing to Townsville he just about could have found with the Crocs no longer an NBL option.

"I love it down here and it is very similar to Townsville with the small town size on the coast. I also met my girlfriend down here and it's my third year now, and I'm really loving it," Froling said.

"It's such a nice place and for me, Townsville is always going to be home and it's where I grew up and it's where my parents, and mates are. But Wollongong has definitely become a second home and I'd love to stay here for a long time."

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