Hungry Jack's NBL
Taipans brave in quest for first NBL Championship
A stunning buzzer-beater might have ended the Cairns Taipans' dreams of a first NBL Championship but that doesn’t take away the fact that the Snakes made history right throughout the 2014/15 season and are building something special. Ever since the Taipans lost their first Grand Final appearance to the New Zealand Breakers back in 2011, coach Aaron Fearne and the organisation have worked tirelessly on building a group that can give them a chance to get back to that point, and try to go one step better. Spending three seasons out of the Finals wasn’t easy, but something was building with Alex Loughton joined over that time by Cameron Gliddon, Cam Tragardh, Stephen Weigh, Matt Burston, Shaun Bruce and Mitch Young. What was needed was the right two imports for the group and that's what Scottie Wilbekin and Torrey Craig delivered, and the result was a history-making season for the Taipans. Cairns finished the regular season with a 21-7 record to be two games clear on top and that meant a first minor premiership and the Taipans became just the second team in history from a non-capital city to achieve that and first since the Geelong Supercats in 1984. Their 21 victories was a franchise record and so were their nine road wins while the stability of the team was remarkable with Burston, Loughton, Weigh, Wilbekin and Gliddon starting every single match The Taipans then won their way into a second ever Grand Final appearance with a two-nil semi-final series win over the Perth Wildcats and that set up a rematch with the Breakers from 2011. While New Zealand was able to outplay Cairns for much of Game 1 in Cairns and take a one-nil lead, Game 2 was a vastly different story at North Shore Events Centre. Cairns might have trailed the whole first half, but took control during the third quarter largely thanks to a dominant showing from Tragardh inside. Then when the three-balls started to fall in the fourth quarter, from Gliddon and Craig in particular, the Taipans looked set to force a deciding Game 3. However, the Breakers did enough to only trail by two points as they got set to take the last shot of the game. Overtime seemed the most likely option, but Ekene Ibekwe hit a remarkable fade away jumper to break the hearts of everyone involved with the Taipans. That meant that Cairns will have to wait another year to try and win that elusive first NBL Championship but first-year captain Gliddon couldn’t have been more proud of everyone associated with the organisation, and urged them to hold their heads high after everything they still achieved. "It's a hard pill to swallow but we deserve to be proud of what we did this year. We set a lot of records for our team. I'm sorry for Aaron Fearne that we couldn't get it done for him, he deserves it more than anyone," Gliddon said. "Congratulations to the Breakers. They have run this league for a few years now and their toughness is never questioned, those guys are a great. "It wouldn't be the same playing in a Grand Final without a sellout back in Cairns and then in New Zealand, and it wouldn't be the same without that support so we will hold our heads up high and be proud of what we achieved this year." And the only man left from the Taipans team that also lost the 2011 Grand Final to New Zealand, Loughton, was proud of Cairns' effort this season despite the heartbreaking loss. "I think it was a good battle by both teams. We contested it right to the end and made some big plays down the stretch, but they are a great squad and a credit to Dean Vickerman and their whole team. They have a great culture," Loughton said. "We are really proud of how we've gone this year, we are really proud of all our fans backs in Cairns and the ones that came out in New Zealand. "We are building for the future, we have a good core group and we have shown some good things this year. We are in a good spot and coach Aaron Fearne has been brilliant and I couldn’t be more proud of the guys in this team."