‘They’ll be looking for blood’: undermanned Rockingham Flames face stern SBL season opener in Geraldton

Stuart HortonSound Telegraph
Rockingham Flames men's coach Ryan Petrik.
Camera IconRockingham Flames men's coach Ryan Petrik.

Despite tackling its second longest away trip in the State Basketball League with an understrength squad, Rockingham Flames men’s coach Ryan Petrik remains optimistic heading into his side’s season opener on Saturday.

The Flames face the 470km excursion to face the Geraldton Buccaneers at Active West Stadium without Greg Hire, who is involved in the small matter of a Perth Wildcats NBL grand final series, and the injured Brad Robbins and Callum Beard.

Petrik said while round 1 wasn’t an ideal time to play one of the best teams in the State, it will be good to get the long road trip out of the way early.

“They’re a perennial top one, two, three seed every season and they’ll be at full strength, whereas Greg Hire is still playing NBL finals, Brad Robbins and Callum Beard have twinged hamstrings and won’t travel, and the guys have only been together for a couple of weeks,” he said.

“But we’ve got to go up there at some point so in one way it’s good to get it out of the way early but it would’ve been better to have a few weeks together before we have to go them on their home court.”

The Flames and Buccs have already faced off in 2019 thanks to a quirk in the fixturing of the SBL Pre-Season Blitz; clubs who face each other in the first four weeks of the SBL season are usually kept apart in the Blitz, but the pair clashed on March 2 with the Buccs prevailing 70-41.

Petrik used that game as an opportunity to sit his starters and give some of his squad’s younger players a run out, while getting a good look at the Buccs’ strongest line-up.

“We dragged our starters and played all our kids and they played their best unit,” he said.

“So while they beat us by 29 points, they beat us while Greg Hire wasn’t there, with Brad Robbins, Ryan Godfrey, our two imports and Chudier Pal all sat down.

“We certainly got a good look at them but they didn’t get a good look at us. The thing with pre-season at the Blitz is it’s really designed for Geraldton and Goldfields because they find it hard to get pre-season games in, whereas we don’t, so they take it super serious.

“We’ve already had a bunch of games (before the Blitz) whereas they went flat out because they need the games. So we’re not looking into that result at all.”

The Flames will be without Greg Hire for the trip to Geraldton.
Camera IconThe Flames will be without Greg Hire for the trip to Geraldton. Credit: Stuart Horton

Petrik said leaving Geraldton with any kind of victory would be a “fantastic result”, however he knows the Buccs will be keen to avenge last season’s unexpected play-offs exit at the hands of the Flames.

“We don’t have to win, because it’s round 1, although we’re going to try and win the game,” he said.

“Obviously we want to get a win but a loss early... our guys are realistic, they know we’re going to one of the hardest places (in the league), to play one of the best teams in the State without our star player and NBL vice captain (Hire).

“The problem I see is we played them in the finals last year and beat them when they were the one seed and we were the eight seed... I’m sure they’ll be coming out looking for blood first week on their home court.”

Petrik was also effusive in his praise of US imports Josh Ritchart and Caleb White, and said in just two weeks in Rockingham White had already exceeded high expectations.

“I was away on my honeymoon last week and my phone blew up on Wednesday night with guys raving about his (training) session,” he said.

“We knew he was good but his ball handling and defence has exceeded expectation. Generally it takes an import six weeks to settle in and he’s only been here for two, so we’re excited about his upside.”

The Flames take on Geraldton at Active West Stadium, Geraldton at 7.30pm on Saturday.

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