The Southland Sharks have booked their spot in the National Basketball League finals, in what must surely be a relief for the competition organisers.

The NBL Final Four will be held in Invercargill for the first time, but the hosting Southerners were a risk to miss their finals showpiece after an inconsistent season plagued with injuries.

After coming from 23 points down to beat the Nelson Giants in what seemed a pivotal victory last week, the Sharks then blew their first shot at clinching by falling to the Taranaki Mountain Airs.

However, the defending champions took their second opportunity, taking down the Wellington Saints 78-75 this afternoon to make sure both attendance and atmosphere will be present come finals time.


As seemingly custom, it wasn't without drama, with the Sharks holding a 47-29 halftime lead before slowly letting the Saints back into the contest.

An impressive two man show from former Shark Shea Ili (a career-high 28 points) and reigning MVP Torrey Craig (21 points and 12 rebounds) gave the visiting Saints a one-point lead with 90 seconds to go, but the Sharks stepped up late to hold on for a vital victory.

Alex Pledger had 20 points and 10 rebounds for the Sharks, while big man partner Nick Kay added 11 points and 13 rebounds. Import guard Mitch Norton had his best game in orange, with 19 points, five rebounds and seven assists for the Sharks, who will realistically finish in third or fourth and face either the Saints or Canterbury Rams in the semifinal.

The loss continued an unexpected slump for the Saints, who lost their top billing on the NBL ladder over their Southern roadtrip.

The Sharks loss was preceded by a 90-85 defeat at the hands of the Rams, who are now the NBL leaders with a 12-5 record.

The Saints now trail in second at 11-5, but can be safe in the knowledge that top seeding has lesser importance under the Final Four format.

The vast array of permutations will make for an entertaining final week of the regular season, with the final unsettled playoff spot set to go to either the Supercity Rangers or Nelson Giants.

The Giants require a run of results to go their way in the final week to claim fourth, needing to defeat the Saints, while hoping that the Rangers lose both their remaining encounters away from home against the Rams and Sharks.

Meanwhile, the Bay Hawks will need a miracle to avoid being the fifth team to go winless in NBL history. The Hawks are 0-16, and travel to face the Airs and Saints in quest of their first victory in a barren season.

NBL Ladder:

Canterbury Rams 12-5
Wellington Saints 11-5
Southland Sharks 10-7
Supercity Rangers 9-7
Nelson Giants 9-8
Taranaki Mountain Airs 7-10
Bay Hawks 0-16