Sporting achievement of the Year Finalist: The Breakers

By Steve Deane

Breakers win
Despite dire predictions by some, the Breakers won the basketball league without Kirk Penney. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Despite dire predictions by some, the Breakers won the basketball league without Kirk Penney. Photo / Sarah Ivey

They've always preached a "whole club" philosophy and winning a second straight ANBL title - this time without Kirk Penney - was a case of the Breakers backing up words with deeds.

Bookmakers - particularly across the Tasman - didn't much fancy the Kiwi club's chances without Penney, rating them likely to finish sixth in the nine-team league. Given results before the Penney era, that view was perhaps understandable. Pre-Penney the Breakers were cellar dwellers. Since the successful recruitment of the best Kiwi player of a generation in 2007, the Breakers have been contenders.

Penney produced offensive explosions only the truly elite can match. He provided star quality, on and off the court. But his most important contribution was credibility. The Breakers found selling their ideals to potential recruits much easier once they were winners, with the league's best player in their ranks.

Classy Aussie CJ Bruton pitched up in 2008, bringing a swagger to the Breakers' burgeoning belief that titles would be heading to Auckland soon. The first duly came in 2010-11, with a virtuoso Penney performance in Perth, a towering comeback from Mika Vukona and a breakout finals series display from Tom Abercrombie ensuring a dominant regular season wasn't wasted.

Whether the house that Penney did so much to help build would stand up without him was the question heading into the 2011-12 campaign. The retention of Gary Wilkinson and recruitment of Cedric Jackson went a long way to ensuring it would, with the club again icing the minor premiership.

A first up finals defeat by Townsville and a shocking Peter Crawford foul that wrecked Abercrombie's ankle in the final moments of the semifinals series ensured the journey to repeat glory would be just as giddy as the obstacle-strewn maiden title.

Once again it was the Breakers' depth and resilience that proved decisive.

They got home in double overtime in the finals opener against Perth thanks to some Bruton heroics, blew a big lead in Perth in game two then outlasted the Wildcats back in Auckland to claim the title, with Bruton once again starring to claim the finals MVP award.

In the end the Breakers did it not only without Penney, but largely without heir apparent Abercrombie, whose most memorable contribution on a busted ankle that would take months to fully heal was a stunning game three block on Shawn Redhage.

Having struggled on ailing knees so badly he was forced to sit out a chunk of the regular season, Bruton's reincarnation was remarkable.

Like so many of his teammates, Bruton is a big game player. So far this year the Breakers have been smouldering away nicely. It would take a brave soul to bet against an historic three-peat when the finals games roll around again in April.

Selections so far

Valerie Adams
Shot put Olympic gold medallist

Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie
Olympic gold medallists

The Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic
ANZ netball champions.

New Zealand Breakers
NBL champions

Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan
Olympic gold medallists

The Chiefs
Super 15 champions

More to be named throughout the week

- NZ Herald

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