2 April 2024

Wollongong Roller Hawks back on the court as embattled basketball league returns

| Zoe Cartwright
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Roller Hawk Shawn Russel

Roller Hawk Shawn Russel lines up a shot. Photo: Just Better Care Wollongong Roller Hawks.

After several years of turmoil, the National Wheelchair Basketball League (NWBL) will return in 2024, to the excitement and relief of players and fans.

Just Better Care Wollongong Roller Hawks club president Geoff Adams said the return of the league was thanks to the dedication of the wheelchair basketball community.

“No season was able to go ahead in 2023 and there was a difficult period through COVID,” he said.

“So the wheelchair basketball community banded together through the formation of Wheelchair Basketball Australia (WBA) to restore the National Wheelchair Basketball League and the Women’s National Wheelchair Basketball League and bring it back to its former glory.

“There is still a lot of work to be done, but we look forward to having a prosperous season ahead in what is an important year with the 2024 Paris Paralympics.”

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The NWBL will return under the guidance of a new entity, Wheelchair Basketball Australia, established to oversee the National Wheelchair Basketball League and the Women’s National Wheelchair Basketball League (WNWBL).

The WBA is endorsed by Basketball Australia, with Basketball Australia remaining the governing body for wheelchair basketball and the sport’s senior and junior national teams.

National wheelchair basketball will return to the Illawarra across five weekends through June, July and August starting with round one against league newcomers the Manly Wheel Eagles with two games to be played on 15 June: a noon game at Shellharbour City Stadium and a 7 pm fixture at the Snakepit, Beaton Park.

In round two the Roller Hawks will host the Darwin Salties. The two sides will meet for the first time since an epic grand final at the Wheelchair Leagues Cup in Brisbane in 2023.

In round four, the Roller Hawks will play the Perth Wheelcats in another blockbuster. Perth were runners-up to Wollongong in the last NWBL season in 2022.

The Roller Hawks’ final home round is against the Red Dust Heelers coached by Australian Rollers coach Brad Ness.

Roller Hawks coach Brendan Dowler said this season should be a cracker.

“The league is shaping up to be much stronger than it has been for some time,” he said.

“A few teams that dropped out through COVID are back, most of the Australian representative players are playing and there is word of overseas players also boosting some teams.

“There hasn’t been this much excitement in the buildup to a season for a long time.”

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Both the men’s and women’s leagues will culminate in a finals series on 10 and 11 August at Shellharbour City Stadium.

This is the first time the NWBL has had a proper home and away season since 2019.

Roller Hawks players Tristan Knowles, Shawn Russell, Luke Pople and Brett Stibners were in Belgium with the Aussie Rollers for the 2024 International Easter Tournament, a warm-up competition held from 29-31 March, featuring Australia, Colombia, Germany, France, Italy, and the Netherlands.

“It’s great for the club to have representation on the national team,” Brendan said.

“They bring that higher standard and expectation back to the Roller Hawks and it lifts us all as a group.

“It looks like every team will have players from the national team or overseas this year so we need to be at our best for every game to get the results we want.”

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