Maitland Mustangs away to arch-rivals Newcastle Hunters

DEFENSIVE PRESSURE: The Mustangs will miss Sam Huggins (left) but can count on Josh Clifford's defensive work against the Hunters.
DEFENSIVE PRESSURE: The Mustangs will miss Sam Huggins (left) but can count on Josh Clifford's defensive work against the Hunters.

The high-flying Maitland Mustangs want the Kibble Mallon Cup back from arch-rivals Newcastle Hunters.

The quest starts on Saturday night in Newcastle in the first of two must-win games against the Hunters to regain the symbol of Hunter basketball supremacy.

But that’s just the start of the Mustangs plans, which have been reassessed after a sensational start to the season from making the play-offs to finishing top of the table in the Waratah Champions League.

The Mustangs are second on the table with five wins from their six games and have every chance of reaching the half-way mark of the season with a nine-one record and seven home games in the run to the play-offs.

“At the start of the year we set our goals at qualifying for the play-offs. We now see ourselves as a team vying for top spot and going all the way,” Mustangs coach Luke Boyle said.

“At five and one we are in a position to turn at the half-way mark at nine and one which just unbelievable.

“It punches you into a spot where play-offs are virtually assured and you are contesting for top spot.”

Boyle said the Mustangs will need to be at the top of their game against the Hunters as the local derby rivalry brought the best out teams, particularly the underdog.

“I still remember when we were always the under-dogs. We would never make the play-offs when it first started and Newcastle would make them every year,” he said.

“But when we played them we would just turn it on and beat them by 20 points. Although we weren’t a play-off team we just somehow lifted and that’s what we’ve got to expect this time from them.

“It should be good, you’ve to win it twice to get it back. It’s time to get it back, it’s been away too long.”

The Mustangs go into the game without Sam Huggins and will only have nine players to call on.

“We’ll miss Sam, he is a big contributor to the team and plays big minutes. We lose a couple of players to youth league as well,” Boyle said. 

“We’ll probably go in with eight or nine players, which is not ideal, but we’ll make adjustments during the game to cater for that.

“We’re kind of lucky that we are playing a team which is a bit under-sized because that way we can play under-sized as well and not have to worry about getting hurt on the inside by one of their big players.

“They’ve got some experience and a really good US import in Dane Suttle, who was a top-ranked player coming out of college.

“Sam would have normally been the player matched against Dane, but we have Josh (Clifford) or Vili (Foketi).

“That’s the luxury with Vili, he is a big dude and quite solid but he is very quick on his feet and an unbelievable defender. He can play a variety of positions.”