NBL Showdown: Otago Nuggets face challenge of repeating maiden success

Otago Nuggets have completed a fairytale return to the National Basketball League, securing their maiden title with a performance that will go a long way to ensuring future success for the sport in the south.

They beat the Manawatu Jets 79-77 in the NBL Showdown's Grand Final on Saturday and there were a few tired Nuggets players the morning after.

That wasn't just due to the gruelling six-week competition.

"I think, being the first championship for Otago, a lot of the boys were pretty happy with it, so we celebrated accordingly," says forward Jordan Hunt.

The result brought Otago's most passionate fans to tears. After a six-year hiatus from the league, the Nuggets were back, doing something they'd never done before.

"I've been in Otago for about 30 years and started out with the Nuggets in 1990," says coach Brent Matehaere. "That was my first team down there, so it is really special."

Before last night, Tall Blacks veteran Jarrod Kenny had yet to win an NBL title, making the occasion special for the New Zealand stalwart.

"I think it's been about 19 years, so it's been a long time coming," says Kenny. "It was just a surreal moment really."

With the league's No.1 draft pick Jordan Ngatai coughing up fouls, Otago trailed for much of the first half.

But Grand Final MVP Hunt stepped up in his absence, scoring 21 points, before Ngatai navigated the Nuggets home down the stretch

The key now will be trying to lure the likes of Ngatai, Hunt and Kenny back for next season.

"We may not let them leave Otago," insists Matehaere. 

"It's not off the cards for a move," says Kenny, who has played most recently for Bay Hawks, missing from this year's revamped format.

"The whole organisation's run pretty well, so we'll see what happens," says Hunt, who hails from Hutt Valley.

Whether they do or don't, this year's success will set Otago up perfectly for seasons to come.

"I think you'll see this core group they've got this year go on to bigger and better things," says Kenny.

But for the time being, they'll enjoy what they have now and think about that some more after celebrations end.