Geraldton Buccaneers set themselves for deep finals run ahead of qualifying home clash with Willetton Tigers

Jake Santa MariaGeraldton Guardian
Captain Aaron Ralph and coach Dayle Joseph
Camera IconCaptain Aaron Ralph and coach Dayle Joseph Credit: Jake Santa Maria

The first box has been ticked off, but now the real challenge begins for the Geraldton Buccaneers as they get their finals campaign underway this Saturday against the Willetton Tigers.

For a second straight year, the Buccs have finished inside the top two and secured a home-qualifying final but for a side looking for redemption after last year’s grand final heartbreak, there is still plenty of hard work to come.

“It’s good to be back into finals and get top two as well,” captain Aaron Ralph said.

“It’s always the aim at the start of the season and now really excited to begin finals.

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“I think we’re in a very similar position to where we were this time last year, but with that extra year under everyone’s belt it helps, we just have to put in the hard work and the rest will take care of itself.”

The Buccs have beaten the Tigers in both meetings this season, including in the final game of the season just last weekend, but Ralph believes both sides may have held kept some extra fuel in the tank.

“Anything can happen in a week of any sport, it’s interesting, I don’t think everyone showed their hand on Saturday and they didn’t play Mark Worthington who will come back in so I’m looking forward to it,” he said.

Coach Dayle Joseph has been pleased with the way the team was able to close out the regular season and said the belief was strong among the group that they could go all the way this year.

“The Wolves did us a favour by getting over Perry Lakes in overtime allowing us to secure the top two early, if you offered the top two at the start of the season we would have taken it straight away,” he said.

“I thought we might have struggled a bit early and maybe dropped a couple of games along the way and thought we might have had to fight it out with a group in the middle but the boys have done well to finish second so credit to them.”

The Buccs have not lost a home game this season and with a packed home crowd to support them they will be favourites again this weekend but Joseph expects a tough fight.

“We probably don’t have as many stars as some of the other teams out there but I think, as a group and as a coach, that’s what you want as well,” he said.

“It’s great to have these great players but sometimes a good team beats great players and I guess that’s what we aim for, trying to gel together and get the job done, and probably more do the hard work.

“I think we’ll have to play some pretty tough defence to get the job done at that end, and then hopefully, we get some free-flowing stuff at the other end.”

Without a second big import signing this season, the Buccs have had to rely more heavily on developing existing talent on their list with Malik Meunier the big standout, earning a place in the All NBL1West all-star squad.

Ralph had high praise for the star and also Johny Narkle who was named sixth man for the second straight year.

“I think Malik, knew he was gonna have more time to burn this year and he’s just taken that opportunity with both hands and had a stellar year, he’s shooting and facilitating the ball really well,” he said.

“With Johny I mean it’s a no-brainer, any team in the league he’s starting every game. He’s Mr Versatile, he does everything and just does the job.”

Joseph was named coach of the year for the second year in a row, which he was quick to attribute to the work of his support staff, saying it was a team effort. But Ralph who spent last year in the coaching staff as he recovered from injury said it was a thoroughly deserved accolade for Joseph.

“He is outstanding in everything he does behind the scenes, especially being with him last year doing that sort of stuff, in my opinion (it) was a no-brainer that he got that especially rolling with just one import just at the moment,” he said.

“To get what he can out of the group is pretty impressive.”

The Buccs will face the Tigers on Saturday from 7pm at Activewest Stadium.

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