Hunters’ hopes on the line

ON THE BALL: Emily Keith and Joel Rauch modelling the one-off red Charity Night uniforms which the Hunters will wear on Saturday night. Picture: suppliedIT will be a case of all hands on deck for defending Waratah Basketball League women’s champions Newcastle in their must-win game against Sydney Comets at Broadmeadow on Saturday.

The sixth-placed Hunters (5-7) will be without triple Olympian Suzy Batkovic, who is attending a wedding in Townsville, and injured young guns Cassie Pentney and Bianca Green. Centre Sophie Parente is also in doubt, having been laid low with a virus all week.

Newcastle must beat seventh-placed Sydney (3-8) and hope for favourable results from games involving third-placed Manly (8-4), fourth-placed Bankstown (7-4) and fifth-placed Sutherland (6-5) in the final month of the regular season to have any hope of sneaking into the semi-finals at Maitland on August 12.

Hunters coach Mark Gledson hopes the anticipated biggest crowd of the season will help his team produce a special performance. Coinciding with the club’s third annual charity night, Newcastle’s championship women’s and men’s teams are playing their last home games of the season.

All five senior Hunters representative teams will be at home on Saturday and will wear one-off red uniforms in a show of support for charity night partners Variety, The Children’s Charity.

“This is a great challenge for us this week. We need a real team effort, and obviously a win to keep our play-off chances alive,” Newcastle coach Mark Gledson said.

“Defence is the key, then converting it into offence.

“We will be without Suzy and several other players, and we have a number of other minor injuries to deal with. I guess it’s that time of the year that these injuries surface, but the atmosphere from the crowd for charity night should be electric and hopefully that works to our advantage.”

Games start at 1pm (youth league women), followed by division one men and youth league men at 3pm, championship women at 5pm and championship men at 7pm.

Men’s coach Darren Nichols said the Hunters (2-12) were bracing for an onslaught from leaders Sydney (13-1), who won 94-54 when the teams met at Alexandria on March 25, but he was confident they would not take a backward step against the title favourites.

“It’s our last home game and it’s an extremely tough assignment against the league leaders. We can’t afford a slow start with Sydney because they are big and unforgiving and will punish any mistakes,” Nichols said.

“But I’ve been very happy with the consistent effort every week from the team, and that’s all I can ask from such a young and inexperienced group.

“We were all disappointed with the two-point loss to Illawarra last week, but that’s basketball.

“Unknown to us, our captain Ben Hawkesley was suffering from food poisoning and is still recovering, so we’re hoping he is able to play. We were very happy with the maturity shown by our three youth league players Jacob Foy, Joel Rauch and Jakob Dorricott, who contributed 71 of our 91 points last week, so that’s an encouraging sign for the future of the Newcastle Hunters.”