Back in the Day: The NBL and WNBL on Anzac Day

Back in the Day: The NBL and WNBL on Anzac Day

It holds a special place on the Australian calendar, a day to stop and reflect on those that have made sacrifices in the past, so that we may enjoy the future. We look back at the history of Aussie hoops on ANZAC Day.

Friday 25th April 1980

NBL Game One: City of Sydney Astronauts @Canberra Cannons

Final score: Cannons 82-Astronauts 60

NBL Game Two:
West Torrens Eagles @Coburg Giants

Final score: Giants 98-Eagles 71

Saturday 25th April 1981

NBL Game One: Illawarra Hawks @Canberra Cannons

Final score: Cannons 76-Hawks 69

NBL Game Two: St. Kilda Saints @West Adelaide Bearcats

Final score: Bearcats 81-Saints 80

This second re-match from the previous year’s grand final proved to be just as thrilling as the first (won by St. Kilda 94-90 on March 14). The Bearcats went into the final twenty seconds with the ball in their possession and ahead by a point. The Saints furiously attempted to foul their way to a bonus situation and regain the ball. Finally with three seconds left Brad Dalton was called for a travel and St. Kilda had their last chance. A half-court heave from Andy Blicavs proved to be unsuccessful and West Adelaide had knocked their hated rivals out of the top four.

NBL Game Three: Bankstown Bruins @Launceston Casino City

Final score: Casino City 92-Bruins 81

A strike by airline cabin crews forced a two hour delay in the tip-off of this match. Eventually the home side won out thanks to 30 points from wunderkind Ian Davies along with 24 from the silky smooth Cliff Martin.

NBL Game Four: Nunawading Spectres @Newcastle Falcons

Final score: Falcons 75-Spectres 70

‘Falconmania’ was alive and well in the Hunter district with another sell-out crowd coming to see if their heroes could take another high-ranking Victorian scalp (St. Kilda had been thwarted in dramatic style in Round Five). Owen Wells was once again in outstanding touch for the Falcons with his 29 points and 13 rebounds driving his team to a hard-fought victory.

Sunday 25th April 1982

NBL Game One: Perth Wildcats @Brisbane Bullets

Final score: Wildcats 86-Bullets 79

This was the most surprising result of the round: the Wildcats getting a rare victory on the east coast over a “disappointing” Bullets line-up at Auchenflower Stadium. Perth, who had trailed by as many as 20 points in the first half, produced a wonderful fight-back to grab the win. The introduction of a full-court press turned the tide as the home team was forced into several turnovers. Brian Banks’ 29 points did not prove to be enough to get Brisbane over the line. While Tim Evans scored 22 points for the Wildcats, it was former Bullets import Dan Hickert who made the most notable impact on the game with his rebounding in the second half.

NBL Game Two: St. Kilda Pumas @Bankstown Bruins

Final score: Pumas 67-Bruins 66

St. Kilda coach Brian Kerle faced a dilemma: to play or not to play Wayne Larkins. Larkins, then only 16 and at 170 cm the shortest player in the League had been drafted in following the Ken Burbidge’s decision to leave the club following a Victorian state championship match where he had spent the entire game on the bench.

The winless Bruins, with Robbie Cadee coming out of retirement to give the team a hand, were in front for all bar the last two seconds of the contest. Winding the clock down, Cadee threw an errant pass which was intercepted by Phil Smyth (‘Bill Smyth” in the match report). Smyth threw up a half-court prayer which went in for two points in the days before a three-point line. Kelvin Henderson’s 24 points in a losing cause stood out while “The General”, then just a lowly private, finished the game with 19.

NBL Game Three: Launceston Casino City @Adelaide City Eagles

Final score: Eagles 110-Casino City 83

Leading 66-38 at the half, Adelaide was rocked by a 10-0 run from Casino City at the start of the second half. The Eagles steadied and eased home to an important victory. Reg Biddings scored 27 points for the home side with Darryl Pearce chipping in with 22. The game was seen as positive preparation for the cross-town showdown with the Bearcats to be played at Apollo Stadium the following week.

Friday 25th April 1986

NBL Game One: Sydney Supersonics @Perth Wildcats

Final score: Supersonics 99-Wildcats 91

NBL Game Two: Hobart Devils @Brisbane Bullets

Final score: Bullets 115-Devils 83

A crowd of over 4000 fans packed into Chandler Arena to see the Bullets open their defence of their NBL title, won in such style the previous September. Leroy Loggins broke the game open in the first half, scoring 26 of his 31 points. Despite the crushing margin of victory, Brisbane coach Brian Kerle was unhappy with his team’s performance: “We gave up too many easy baskets. We should have beat them by 40 or 45 points.”

WNBL Game: Headley's of Hobart @North Adelaide Rockets

Final score: Rockets 74-Hobart 63

Saturday 25th April 1987

NBL Game One: Melbourne Tigers @Illawarra Hawks

Final score: Hawks 122-Tigers 101

With more seats now installed a record crowd rocked the Snakepit with the Hawks shooting 56 per cent from the field in routing the Tigers. Alphonse Hammond led Illawarra with 30 points while Ray Borner shot 10/12 on his way to 25 points. Hawks coach David Lindstrom was disappointed that his charges had let Andrew Gaze score 38 points: as Gaze had scored 54 the previous night against Canberra he was probably feeling tired!

NBL Game Two: Westside Melbourne Saints @Perth Wildcats

Final score: Wildcats 133-Saints 111

It was a historic night for the Wildcats as they played their first game at their new home, the $23 million Superdrome (now Challenge Stadium). Between 500 and 1500 fans were turned away at the door in a precursor of the excitement that would soon build in the West. The final margin was largely due to James Crawford’s 20 points in the fourth period, rounded off with one of what would become many dunks for the ‘Alabama Slammer’. Mike Ellis also stood out for the home side, finishing with 26 points and 11 assists.

NBL Game Three:
Eastside Melbourne Spectres @Sydney Supersonics

Final score: Spectres 98-Supersonics 76

NBL Game Four:
Hobart Devils @Geelong Cats

Final score: Cats 129-Devils 118

WNBL Game One: Brisbane Bullets @Bulleen Melbourne Boomers

Final score: Bullets 68-Boomers 42

WNBL Game Two: Nunawading Spectres @Hobart Island Staters

Final score: Spectres 74-Island Staters 57

WNBL Game Three:
Coburg Cougars @Noarlunga Tigers

Final score: Tigers 59-Cougars 49

Saturday 25th April 1992

NBL Game One: Illawarra Hawks @Perth Wildcats

Final score: Wildcats 116-Hawks 90

In the wake of a 27 point hiding by the Sydney Kings on their home court the previous Saturday, Wildcats coach Murray Arnold decided to drop Mike Ellis from the starting five. Ellis, the sole surviving member of the original Wildcats squad from 1982, turned out to be the crucial factor in a 66-27 run from 3 minutes into the third quarter. The other main man for Perth was Andrew Vlahov who racked up 34 points and 12 rebounds for the night. With the loss, the Hawks’ struggles against the Cats continued, having won only once on their trips to Perth.

NBL Game Two:
Melbourne Tigers @Brisbane Bullets

Final score: Tigers 125-Bullets 123

This was a payback game for Tigers forward Robert Sibley, who had been controversially cut by Brisbane at the end of the previous season. The back-court pairing of Andrew Gaze and Lanard Copeland scored a combined total of 62 points, while former Laker bench warmer (and NBA champion) Adrian Branch was the top-scorer for the Bullets with 40 points. Fittingly, it was Sibley who hit the winning basket and then celebrated in front of the Bullets bench and coach Brian Kerle.

NBL Game Three:
Adelaide 36ers @ Sydney Kings

Final score: Kings 100-36ers 99

The late Michael Wrublewski always said that this game was one of the most memorable games that he ever saw. A nip and tuck affair (the biggest lead for either side was eight points), the two centres played like giants for their respective teams. Sydney’s Dean Uthoff scored 25 points and grabbed 23 rebounds, while Adelaide’s Mark Bradtke scored 34 points and brought down 19 rebounds. The game ended in the most dramatic of styles: Bradtke banked in a 12-footer to give the 36ers the lead; Sydney’s Dwayne McClain then went the length of the floor and kissed a high lay-up off the glass and through the basket to send the 8000-plus crowd into a frenzy. It was surely was one of the games of the year and of any year.

NBL Game Four:
Canberra Cannons @ Hobart Tassie Devils

Final score: Devils 119-Cannons 99

It had been a tough week for the Devils: both of their imports had been sacked ‘for their attitude’, according to player-coach Cal Bruton. Two new imports were brought in (guard Donald Whiteside and former League MVP Joe Hurst) and Canberra walked straight into an ambush. By halftime, with Hobart up by 17, Bruton was said to resemble ‘a man who had just swallowed a banana sideways’. The Devils coasted to their first victory of the season.

NBL Game Five:
South East Melbourne Magic @ North Melbourne Giants

Final score: Giants 123-Magic 93

The merger of the Saints and Spectres to create the Magic was no barrier to these two teams maintaining one of the hottest rivalries in the League. Giants coach Bruce Palmer returned to the sideline following a one-week suspension and saw his team sweep South East Melbourne to the kerb. A 69-49 first half made this game a laugher (for North Melbourne fans anyway). Paul Maley was brilliant for the Giants with 30 points and 21 rebounds. For the Magic, Darren Perry was the top-scorer with 16 points.

WNBL Game One:
Perth Breakers @ Hobart Islanders

Final score: Breakers 76-Islanders 42

Perth gained a modicum of revenge in this rematch of the 1991 Preliminary Final. The major difference now was that Robyn and Tom Maher were clothed in the green of Perth and a close game turned into a runaway. Breakers centre Maryanne DiFrancesco is the star of the game, scoring 21 points.

WNBL Game Two:
West Adelaide Lady Bearcats @ Brisbane Blazers

Final score: Blazers 65-Lady Bearcats 55

Sandy Brondello returned to the Brisbane line-up following a forced lay-off and led the Blazers to their first victory of the season. Her 16 points, combined with Jenny Whittle’s 14 were enough to hold off the Bearcats’ Rachael Sporn (19 points) and Rhonda Bates (16 points).

WNBL Game Three:
Melbourne Tigers @ Sydney Flames

Final score: Tigers 60-Flames 53

Trish Fallon brought up 20 points for the Tigers as the Ray Tomlinson-coached side opened their road trip on the right note. Karen Dalton was the top-scorer for the Flames with 15 points.

Sunday 25th April 1993

NBL Game: North Melbourne Giants @Geelong Supercats

Final score: Giants 120-Supercats 112

Brett Brown gets his first victory as an NBL coach as the Giants’ frontline overpowers Geelong in the trenches. Jason Reese makes a startling recovery from an injury to his hand following the misuse of a cheese grater to rack up 41 points and 13 rebounds. He gains great support from veteran Larry Sengstock who in his 340th game (one off equaling the then League record) garners 17 points as well as 11 rebounds.

Tuesday 25th April 1995

NBL Game: Brisbane Bullets @Gold Coast Rollers

Final score: Bullets 139-Rollers 129

While Essendon and Collingwood were giving birth to their own blockbuster down south, Brisbane and Gold Coast decided that attack was the best form of defence. The game was swung decisively when Trevor Torrance missed a pair of free throws with the scores tied at 126-126 with 2:30 left to play. On the next possession Shane Heal dropped his ninth three-pointer of the game and the Bullets were home.

Thursday 25th April 1996

NBL Game: Sydney Kings @North Melbourne Giants

Final score: Giants 111-Kings 95

North Melbourne handed the Kings their first loss of the season following an ill-tempered match at the Glasshouse. A 31-22 third quarter combined with 27 points from Paul Maley (returning after a long stint on the sidelines due to a back injury) were the keys to the victory. The ill-temper arose in the third quarter with Isaac Burton and Tonny Jensen becoming involved in a series of torrid exchanges. Referee Ian Watts was caught in the crossfire and left the game at three-quarter time after being accidentally struck on the head by Burton.

Friday 25th April 1997

NBL Game One: Townsville Suns @Brisbane Bullets

Final score: Suns 104-Bullets 96

There were 3480 paying spectators at the Brisbane Convention Centre that night: you could have added another 18 as Derek Rucker and Leroy Loggins conducted their own personal duel. Loggins came out on top in the match-up (39 points to 32) but it was Rucker’s Suns who grabbed the victory, only their second against the Bullets in ten attempts. Brisbane’s Steve Woodberry achieved one of the most disappointing triple-doubles in League: his 11 points, ten rebounds and 11 assists off a pathetic 5/26 from the field.

NBL Game Two:
Perth Wildcats @Sydney Kings

Final score: Kings 97-Wildcats 92

In another classic confrontation between these two clubs, Aaron Trahair was the match-winner. After Andrew Vlahov hit a three-pointer to tie at 92 with ten seconds left to play, Trahair took the inbounds pass and went the length of the floor and sunk a lay-up with 2.9 secs left. Then in a moment of madness, Perth called a time-out when they didn’t have any to spare. The Kings then went on to win the game from the free-throw line.

WNBL Game One: Canberra Capitals @Melbourne Tigers

Final score: Tigers 82-Capitals 69

WNBL Game Two: Brisbane Blazers @Sydney Flames

Final score: Flames 66-Blazers 48

WNBL Game Three: Bulleen Melbourne Boomers @Dandenong Rangers

Final score: Rangers 69-Boomers 59

Saturday 25th April 1998

NBL Game One: Sydney Kings @Canberra Cannons

Final score: Cannons 109-Kings 96

NBL Game Two: Townsville Suns @Brisbane Bullets

Final score: Suns 103-Bullets 102

Derek Rucker once again proved to be the deciding factor in this match-up. Down 102-100 with five seconds remaining, Rucker was forced to put a three-pointer to win the game. With two defenders on his back, Rucker’s shot felt good out of the hand, started to drift to the right in the air and then rolled through off the rim for a famous victory. Rucker finished with 23 points for the game, having led his team to their first season sweep of the Bullets in club history.

This is another in a regular series of articles that will take note of the historic events of the modern era of Australian basketball (1979-today). If you have memories to share, or topics that should be discussed, send an email to and put in the subject line ‘Back in the Day.’