It's only Round 3 but the ANZAC Day game between the Wellington Saints and Southland Sharks is already being billed as the biggest of the regular season and a possible preview of this year's Grand Final match-up.
While there is a long way to go this season and a lot to play out, the storied history between the two Sal's NBL juggernauts is undeniable. The Saints and Sharks are the giants of the competition - no disrespect to Nelson intended.
Over their last 15 clashes they have jointly shared in four Championships, the Sharks hold an 8-7 advantage and only 12 points in total separates them - 1350 to 1338. It is an amazing rivalry whichever we you look at it.
When & where: Thursday April 25 @ 7:30pm, TSB Arena, Wellington
Broadcast: live on SKY TV and Prime TV from 7:30pm.
Tickets: available at the door or pre-purchase at www.ticketmaster.com.au
So as we head into their ANZAC Day clash at Wellington's TSB Arena, let's take a look at 10 things you need to look for as the rivalry continues.
10 THINGS TO LOOK FOR - SAINTS vs SHARKS
1) Hot Shooting From Nick Kay & Shea Ili
Amazingly Kay and Ili have started the season near perfect when it comes to dropping points, they have been unstoppable and if that form continues on ANZAC Day then the Sharks will have some major issues.
2) Mitch McCarron's Creativeness
McCarron has been widely tipped to figure prominently in the race for the TAB MVP this season and based on what we've seen so far the pundits are on to something. McCarron's ability to create something out of nothing is quite unique and leaves opponents and opposition coaches scratching their head. Look for McCarron to do the unthinkable against the Saints.
3) Jordan Ngatai's Hot Form
While everyone keeps an eye on Kay, Ili, Te Rangi and Loe, be mindful that Jordan Ngatai is looming and so far this season he has been looming large. When the Saints are looking for a spark against the Sharks, don't be surprised if it's Ngatai that delivers the energy and a big shot, or two.
4) Sharks Synergy
At one stage last week against the Giants the Sharks scored in a set where the ball passed through every set of hands (all five players) - it was poetry in motion. You get the feeling the Sharks are gelling really well and the starting group of Weeks, McCarron, Blanchfield, Vodanovich and Pledger are only going to get better as the weeks roll by.
5) Blistering Speed
Don't be surprised if both teams try to go up-tempo, and why wouldn't you given the blistering speed on show. Shea Ili and Jarrad Weeks are two of the quickest players in the league and if they push the rock we are in for a treat.
6) Tall Timber Battle
This will be fun! Both teams have terrific inside presence and will look to take advantage in the paint, but that battle will be a hard one. Nick Kay and Rob Loe will meet Alex Pledger and Tom Vodanovich - the pair to come out on top could well be the pair celebrating a win at the final buzzer.
7) The Home Crowd
Make no mistake, outside of a possible Final 4 appearance at Christchurch, this will be the game that Saints fans will want to be at. There is absolutely no love lost when it comes to playing the Sharks. Expect a huge Saints crowd and an arena filled with noise. The home crowd has a role to play here, question is whether or not the Sharks can silence them?
8) The Depth Factor
Both the Saints and Sharks possess the best starting line-ups in the league, but who has the deeper bench? The experience of Leon Henry and young class of Sunday Dech may just place the Saints slightly ahead of the Sharks in this department. Hyrum Harris will play big minutes for the Sharks off the pine and based on what we saw from him last week, his contribution will be vital.
9) The Coaching Battle
Judd Flavell (Sharks) and Paul Henare (Saints) are good friends and have spent plenty of time coaching with and against each other. There will be no hidden secrets here. Both are very good at their craft and they will need every bit of experience and creativeness to get one up over the other. It will be an intriguing battle of minds.
10) The X-Factor
In what promises to be another close contest that could well come down to the final play or two, don't be surprised if an x-factor arises for either team. For the visiting Sharks there is a growing feeling that Todd Blanchfield could take his game to another level anytime soon. He has already been very good this season, his ability to stay balanced when shooting is incredible, but he is set for a massive game soon and this one would be a perfect time. For the Saints, Reuben Te Rangi has played his role so far in a star-studded line-up, but we all know he has another level in him and if he brings that to the Sharks it would go a long way to the Saints winning.