Ipswich Force to share in benefits of new NBL1 series
IPSWICH Force head coach Chris Riches knows how valuable the NBL1 North series will be as excitement builds for this weekend's new competition launch.
"It's been a long time coming with the false start that we had last year with COVID,'' Riches said.
"Everyone just wants it to start. There's a real sense of just getting underway with it and us being able to take off with the rebranding of having it as NBL1.
"There's been a lot of positives that a lot of associations have seen through that connection with the NBL.
"There's a lot of good stories happening and we're just ready to put on a show.''
A year after the historic competition was planned, Ipswich Force men's and women's teams will open their campaigns against the Gold Coast at Carrara on Sunday afternoon.
"The NBL1 North competition provides an opportunity for Ipswich to be seen on the national stage,'' Riches said.
"With the unification of the state league competitions, winners of each state will have an opportunity to again compete for a national title.
"That's something that has been missing in recent times.''
The Force women play at 1pm on Sunday, followed by the men at 3pm.
For men's head coach Riches, having long-serving leader Jason Ralph remaining captain highlights the ongoing Ipswich development focus.
"Having that stability is really important to us,'' Riches said.
"From where we started four years ago to where we are right now, the program has significantly changed but the ethos around trying to develop that local talent is still a pretty strong theme.
"For a lot of people that are coming to the association, that's the path that they sort of see.
"I've have positive feedbacks from some of the new members of the club this year saying it's very different to where they've come from. It has a different feel to it . . . competing, working hard week in, week out.
"It's something that we are working hard to try and establish long term.''
After guiding his team to last year's Queensland State League (QSL) semi-finals, Riches has acquired some new players to bolster the local talent in his playing roster.
They include forward Manylock Malek (from Toowoomba), centre James Ringholt (Northside) and shooting guard Cameron Weber (Toowoomba).
Star signing Matt Hodgson will join the Force team after he completes his Brisbane Bullets NBL commitments.
"We've basically increased the amount of guys we've got back playing specific roles for us,'' Riches said.
"So that's been a benefit to us over the off-season. We've been able to recruit well.
"But there has been other players as well that have stepped up and we are just another year down the track in that development pathway.
"There's another wave of juniors that come into the program that are looking to step up and play significant roles within the program long term.''
The full Force roster is: Jason Ralph, Ryan Jeffries, Mitchell Poulain, James Ringholt, Kane Bishop, Manylok Malek, Michael Fleming, Ethan Robinson, Cameron Weber, Lachlan MacGregor, Matthew Hodgson, Denzel Kennedy, Joshua Lincoln, Deshawn Ross-Paiwan, Merrick Small, Chol Guet.
Joining head coach Riches is team manager Shellie Trinder.
"I have worked with her previously on different types of state development pathways programs and stuff like that,'' Riches said.
"She's a coach as well as a manager so she brings a significant amount of experience and also has a good rapport with the boys being a coach.''
Ipswich Force participated in the Veto Anzac Day Tournament and NBL1 North Blitz.
That gave the team six pre-season games leading into the new season.
"Our team unity has always been a strength and will continue to be a focal point for us across our games,'' Riches said.
"We want to be in the top teams for our defensive effort and continue to develop in this regard.''
As for a player to watch this season, Riches offered former Ipswich Grammar School student Kane Bishop.
"Kane had a standout season in the 2020 QSL,'' Riches said.
"Kane is sort of in that age group where he's kind of in his prime.
"Now is that period of time where he's looking to cement his position at the next level - whether that be as a starter or role player or whatever is contribution - he is looking to maximise what he is doing.''
The Force teams are being sponsored by 4 Hearts Brewery, Bremer Suzuki, Rushways Transport, JUST and River94.9.