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The missing pieces to the Taipans puzzle

In some sports, it’s referred to as the premiership window. It’s a time where the planets align to create a mix between age, chemistry and experience that in theory, creates the conditions for a team to produce the ultimate success. Right now, the Cairns Taipans are deep in it. Their belief is such that they have recruited accordingly, adding two major pieces to the team that finished runner up last season with dual Olympian Mark Worthington on the floor and legendary coach Gordie McLeod off of it. Both NBL veterans are coming to North Queensland with the intention of completing the task the franchise just fell cruelly short of, back in March. The stats are heavily in the Cairns Taipans’ favour. In the last 30 years of the NBL, only one team has finished on top of the ladder at the end of the regular season but were unable to win the Championship in the surrounding years - the Victoria Titans in 2001 and 2002. The Snakes were clearly the dominant team in the last regular season with a club record of 21 wins, becoming the first regional NBL team to finish on top of the ladder since Geelong in 1984. They were also the first team in seven years to win the season series against every other club. Head coach Aaron Fearne is expecting the addition of Mark Worthington is going to provide them with a crucial piece of the puzzle for their 2015/16 campaign. “He’s going to bring a level of toughness. He’s a Championship winner so he knows what it takes to win. He’s played at the highest level for his country at the Olympics so his experience and the fact that he has a very high basketball IQ will help,” said Fearne. “He knows how to influence games in different ways by scoring with the ball, defending or just imposing himself physically. He adds a level of depth to our group and will compliment the current roster.” Mark Worthington is joining the Taipans line-up will one goal in mind. “My main reason to come to Cairns was to win a Championship - everyone saw how close they got last year. It’s obviously a shame to lose Scottie [Wilbekin] but the addition of Markel Starks and the return of Torrey Craig will be a boost for us,” said Worthington. “Last year would’ve left a bitter taste in their mouths, so with the ongoing evolution of some of the younger guys in the group and the veterans being a little bit hungrier to get to the ultimate goal, we can come out firing.” One of the more remarkable NBL off-season stories was the departure of head coach Gordie McLeod from the Hawks and his appointment as Fearne’s assistant in Cairns. McLeod brings a combined 696 games as a player and coach at NBL level to the role and Fearne could not happier. “His style of game and my style of game are very similar - we play the game the same way. He’s been able to get us to look at things in a different light and has definitely added a different dimension to us,” said Fearne. “The experience he has is unquestionable. Both Jamie [Pearlman] and I are looking forward to learning more off him and trying to make everybody better. We think that with the addition of Gordie as coach and Mark as a player, we have dramatically improved in both departments.” As the Taipans gear up for their 16th NBL season, Worthington will make history as the 100th player to suit up for the franchise, but few know his first taste of professional basketball as a 17-year old came as a development player in Cairns, back in 2000. His return to Queensland at 32 years of age and 279 games under his belt at the Kings, Dragons, Tigers, Blaze and most recently Melbourne United does initiate concern in regard to the ageing big man department of the Taipans clearly being the oldest in the league. Tragardh, Burston and Loughton will also all be passed their 32nd birthday when the season tips off at home against the Illawarra Hawks on Thursday 8 October. “We commonly joke in the group that instead of breaking off into bigs and guards at training, it’s now the veterans and the young guys! I think we have a great rapport with the bigs already knowing that we don’t have to play massive minutes, but at the same time we are all reliable players in our own right,” said Worthington. “We are all really excited about the opportunity to share minutes and spread the work load over the season. You know when you get subbed out that the next guy is going to be just as hungry as you are to put in that effort. It’s great to have the poise of a veteran that sometimes the young players don’t have when they come in.” It also has not gone unnoticed that the Taipans will now have four Western Australians on their roster, twice as many the Perth Wildcats currently have, but it bodes well for “Wortho.” “It’s great to be playing with Cameron Gliddon, another Bunbury boy. Matt Burston and I won a championship together at at the Dragons. Alex Loughton and I have been rivals since Under 16’s so we have pretty much played on every possible team against each other but never played on a team with each other,” said Worthington. “Even though we are all WA boys, we know we have an important role to play in this community. Cairns has been close to winning a championship a couple of times and we just want to be able to give Cairns their first Championship.”
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