Kirk Penney must have spent this season occasionally feeling like the only constant in an ever-changing Breakers team.

In his first campaign since returning to New Zealand, the 36-year-old was almost the only consistent figure as the bodies dropped around him, watching as his side slipped into a near-fatal tail-spin.

But after the Breakers belatedly found some continuity ahead of tomorrow's clash with Cairns at the NSEC, Penney appears set to transform from a steady presence into his side's biggest weapon for the stretch run.

Penney and Mika Vukona are the only two Breakers to start all 24 games in this injury-ravaged season. But Vukona has played almost 250 fewer minutes - and no other Breaker is within three hours of Penney's tally of 733 minutes.

Advertisement

Yet that workload isn't wearing on the veteran in the final weeks of the season. Quite the opposite, in fact. Because for all the attributes Kevin Dillard has brought to the Breakers during his revelatory five-game stint, unleashing Penney might have been the most important to the Breakers' chances of reaching the playoffs.

After averaging 16.8 points per game before the American arrived, Penney has increased his output to 19.8 with Dillard by his side in the back-court. Part of that is the attention Dillard is attracting from opposing defences but it also shows how quickly the point guard has learnt the tendencies of his teammates.

"It's been seamless," Penney told Radio Sport. "[Dillard] has done an exceptional job, understanding our system and understanding our guys, being that player on the court who's calling plays and trying to get everyone involved.

"Obviously we were struggling with injuries and trying to fill each other's positions, but when you can just slide back into what you can do well, it's made it a lot more enjoyable and we've been a lot more effective."

Indeed, it's no coincidence the Breakers have built a four-game winning streak using the same lineup: Dillard, Penney, Paul Carter, Vukona and Rob Loe. Prior to that settled stretch, coach Paul Henare was forced to employ seven different starting fives in 20 games, hampering the team's rotations and resulting in an 8-12 record.

The Breakers were in last place and the post-season looked a long shot. But recruiting Dillard and Carter kick-started a resurgence that unlocked Penney's potential and left second place the temporary prize if the Breakers beat Cairns tomorrow.

"Internally we kept believing," Penney said. "[General manager] Dillon [Boucher] and Pauli said, 'It's not over yet, we've got time', and they went and got a couple of very good players in the exact positions we needed them.

"It's a newer group than we started with and there's been a lot of changes, but right now it's a really strong group."