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The Wollongong Roller Hawks are national league champions once again defeating the Queensland Spinning Bullets 72-65 in a thrilling Gold Medal game.

“It feels great that we were able to do it together as a team,” said Roller Hawks centre Michael Auprince.

“Brisbane are a quality side. They have an almost unbreakable press that pushed us for the full 40 minutes.”

“We had a game plan and stuck to it throughout, something that pleased both the players and Brendan”


The Roller Hawks got out to a fast start, racing to a 9-2 advantage to start the contest as Queensland began the game nervously. Brett Stibners led the way with 9 of his side’s 19 points in the opening quarter.


But it was only a matter of time before the home side found their groove and thanks to Tom O’Neill-Thorne the Bullets delivered an emphatic second quarter, outscoring the defending champs 25-12 to give the themselves a 7 point lead at half time.


O’Neill-Thorne scored 18 points in the second quarter including 4 three pointers but it was at the defensive end that the Spinning Bullets did the damage, applying a full court press on the Roller Hawks on every possession resulting 6 turnovers and just 12 shot attempts compared to the Bullets’ 20.


Roller Hawks coach Brendan Dowler remained poised throughout, not panicking as the Bullets went on a run.


“They are a good team, so we had to stay calm and ride it out.” said Dowler. “We also rotated a few players in the second with the intention that it would pay off later in the game. We knew that if we stuck with what we were doing it would turn around and while you don't really want to be behind, we weren't panicking about the 6 point deficit and knew that we could overcome that.”


From there the Roller Hawks, made their move, chipping away at Queensland’s lead with Auprince tying the game at 54 all with 1:08 remaining in the third quarter. O’Neill-Thorne and Stibners traded baskets in the final minute of the quarter to see both teams locked at 56 all with a quarter to play.

2018 NWBL champions

Auprince got the final quarter underway with an easy score underneath the basket which sparked an 11-3 run by the Roller Hawks to give themselves some breathing room. Long range shots from the Spinning Bullets that were dropping earlier in the game were now rimming out as the Roller Hawks remained composed knowing time was on their side.


“In the second quarter Tom from Brisbane got on a hot streak and hit a few 3 pointers that gave them a decent lead, but we were determined not to panic and overreact as he was the only one doing any real damage for them,” said Roller Hawks guard Nick Taylor after the game.


“Overall our defence was actually really good, keeping them to a low score in the first quarter particularly.


O’Neill-Thorne closed the gap to 5 with 3:16 remaining but that was the closest they would come and as time wound down, the Spinning Bullets opted not to foul until it was all too late. Brett Stibners sinking two free throws at the end of the game on his way to winning NWBL Finals MVP.


Stibners finished with 32 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists for the game and averaged 26.3 points, 7.6 rebounds and 9 assists across the weekend.


“Sticky was on fire today,” said Auprince in praise of his captain. “Right from the start he brought an offensive intensity that he has had all year. He was hot, so we fed him the ball at every opportunity.
He made the right passes when he had to and shot the ball which is what we want him doing.”


Auprince had 12 points and 11 rebounds, Nick Taylor finished with 10 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists and Luke Pople also had a well rounded game with 9 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists,


Shawn Russell came off the bench with 7 points but it was his speed on defence to disrupt the Bullets that helped change the game while Tim Markcrow dominated the minutes among the Roller Hawks’ low pointers.


“I was confident going into the final,” said a happy Stibners. “What won the game for us was our defence. Everyone who hit the court was committed at the defensive end and it really payed off. It was a very satisfying win after a difficult season.”


For Queensland, O’Neill-Thorne was the stand out with 38 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists.


The win caps off a remarkable weekend for the Roller Hawks who had to battle through three sudden death games and beat each of the other three finalists to retain their title.


“Three big games always takes its toll,” said Auprince.


“When that fatigue starts setting in, it’s great to be able to rely on your strengths and the strengths of your teammates to be able to help you out if you are having a rough game in one area. Whether it’s focusing on rebounding, defence, picking or shooting the ball, each player does what they can to get that win.

The Roller Hawks defeated the fourth placed Red Dust Heelers 68-65 in a nail biter on Friday to advance to Saturday’s game against Kilsyth after they were defeated by Queensland (who advanced directly to the Gold Medal game) on Friday.


The Roller Hawks were too strong for Kilysth on Saturday winning 85-61 and advanced to the Gold Medal game thanks to five players scoring in double figures.


In the play off for Bronze, the Red Dust Heelers were too good for Kilsyth winning 94-81.




Friday 20 July

GAME 1: Queensland Spinning Bullets 77 def Kilsyth Cobras 61

GAME 2: Wollongong Roller Hawks 68 def Red Dust Heelers 65


Saturday 21 July

GAME 3: 6.00pm Wollongong Roller Hawks 85 def Kilsyth Cobras 61


Sunday 22 July

GAME 4: Red Dust Heelers 94 def Kilyth Cobras 81 (Bronze Medal Game)

GAME 5: Wollongong Roller Hawks 72 def Queensland Spinning Bullets 65 (Gold Medal Game)