With 13 weeks in the books, the NFL season is rapidly reaching its final quarter and punters will be all over the top teams already looking the goods to make (and win) Super Bowl LVII. But the NFL is nothing if not unpredictable and, like Cincinnati making the big game last season, each year something unexpected happens.

What teams look like the best chances (and which ones offer the best value) to hold aloft the Lombardi in February?

BUFFALO BILLS – $4.50

CODE Bet Team Hub

After a get-right win over the Patriots, Josh Allen and the 9-3 Bills are back on top of the AFC and toting an offence that threatens to blow open every game they play. Buffalo have the best point differential in the league and a cheat code in Josh Allen, but they might have too many injuries on the defensive side of the ball to carry them all the way.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS – $5.50

CODE Bet Team Hub

After a month-plus of looking like the most balanced and dangerous team in the entire league, the 9-3 Chiefs dropped a tight one to the Bengals last week thanks to an inopportune fumble and the defence’s inability to get a big stop. But with Patrick Mahomes under centre firing to Travis Kelce, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they run the slate from here. They’re a great shot to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LVII.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES – $6

CODE Bet Team Hub

The 11-1 Eagles are still soaring, dispatching a dangerous Tennessee team with ease last week while showing off their terrifyingly proficient all-round game to its full extent. With veteran reinforcements brought in to solidify the defensive line and the MVP-calibre play of quarterback Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia clearly have the tools to win it all.

DALLAS COWBOYS – $7

CODE Bet Team Hub

The Cowboys (9-3) defence might be the most feared in the NFL at the moment, while their offence under quarterback Dak Prescott since he returned from injury has been just as imposing. With Tony Pollard, Ezekiel Elliott and CeeDee Lamb running amok and having scored 122 points over the past three weeks, the ‘Boys have the weapons to go toe-to-toe with anyone and are a definite threat.

CINCINNATI BENGALS – $12

CODE Bet Team Hub 

Joe Burrow and the 8-4 Bengals are looking to replicate their second-half run to the Super Bowl from last season, and the way they’re playing they might just do it. Defensively they’re extremely solid and with their receiving corps on offence they’re able to score at any point.

Honourable Mentions: San Francisco ($11) are a genuine contender but just lost quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo for the season; Minnesota ($13) and Miami ($19) both have explosive offences but their defences let teams hang around.

THE PICK

The run out of the NFC has the potential to be easier than either that of the Bills or KC out of the AFC – because they likely have to play each other – so, with their remaining schedule and the likelihood they’ll be the NFC #1 seed, the value at the moment is with the …

— PHILADELPHIA EAGLES – $6.

[all odds as of December 6 via Betr]

— CHECK OUT CODE BET’S NFL BETTING ANALYSIS HUB HERE — 

Originally published as Who are the best value three-quarter mark NFL Super Bowl contenders?

Last-place Illawarra grabbed their second win of the season with a Sam Froling-inspired smashing of Melbourne United.

Earlier in the round United’s woes started after they lost the Throwdown to their Melbourne rivals, the Phoenix.

Catch up with all the round nine NBL action.

Hawks’ Froling frenzy sends United to new depths

-Ronny Lerner

On a night when Melbourne United champion Chris Goulding became only the 11th NBL player to score 1000 career three-pointers, his team’s disastrous season reached rock bottom after they were thumped 93-79 by cellar dwellers Illawarra in Wollongong.

Goulding headed into the game needing three triples to bring up the milestone, and he did so early in the second quarter when he pump-faked to get around Deng Deng and then, off one foot, drained the long-range bucket.

But the historic moment wasn’t enough to inspire Melbourne from avoiding the humiliating result on Monday night as the last-placed Hawks registered just their second win of the season, and their first in two months, to snap a nine-game losing streak.

Illawarra’s average losing margin over that stretch was 17 points, while their average score was 74, but Hawks centre Sam Froling had a career night to hand Melbourne a fifth consecutive defeat.

Froling was unstoppable, racking up a personal best 29 points on an 11-17 clip from the field (64 per cent), including two triples, as well as nine rebounds and a block from 30 minutes of court time, as United again struggled to contain the opposition big men with the absence of Isaac Humphries (COVID).

The result leaves Melbourne (5-10) in a dire position, languishing in second-last spot on the ladder, now five wins adrift of the top six. To make the playoffs, they will likely need to win 10 of their last 13 games.

The first quarter was a seesawing affair that featured eight lead changes, as both teams lit it up from three-point range with Illawarra going at 4-7 (57 per cent) and Melbourne 5-10 (50).

But a blistering 14-2 run saw the hosts open up a 35-25 lead early in the second quarter, as they produced their best first period of the season (31) in the process, and they would not relinquish the lead for the remainder of the game.

Rayjon Tucker got United back to within a point (53-52) early in the third quarter, however a game-breaking 22-8 run from the hosts saw their lead balloon to 15 points (75-60) in the shadows of the final change and from there they would not be headed.

Illawarra‘s shooting was far superior all night, as they went 53 per cent from the field (36-67), 37 per cent from three (9-24) and 66 per cent from the free-throw line (12-18). Conversely, United shot 40 per cent (28-68), 26 per cent (9-34) and 58 per cent (14-24) respectively in what was a dirty night for them. The Hawks also out-rebounded Melbourne 44-35.

IMPORTS PRODUCE FOR HAWKS

Froling had sound support from Michael Frazier II who registered 16 points, seven rebounds, five assists and a steal in just his second game for the club, while fellow import Tyler Harvey finished with 15 points. Meanwhile, Tucker played a lone hand for the visitors, ending the match with 27 points on 10-18 shooting (55 per cent), including 4-8 from downtown (50), and picking up a steal in what was one of his best games for United.

FROLING ON FIRE

Froling started like a house on fire, scoring 16 points in the opening the term on 6-7 shooting from the field, including 2-2 from beyond the perimeter, to produce the highest-scoring first quarter by any player this season.

RATHAN-MAYES OFF THE BOIL

United guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes had a night he would rather forget, finishing with just 9 points on 2-14 shooting (14 per cent), including 1-8 from three (12). He was 0-7 from the field in the first half, and when he had a chance to redeem himself late in the game, he missed a pair of free throws on two occasions in the final quarter when his team trailed 76-65 and 82-70 respectively, killing any chance they had of mounting an unlikely comeback. Goulding was also quiet in the second half with two points, while David Okwera could only manage one point from 23 minutes.

Cooks thrills, Walton Jr stars as Kings blitz 36ers

-Martin Gabor

Xavier Cooks has already wrapped up the dunk of the year award, but the Kings big man showed he’s still got some tricks up his sleeve after he put Kai Sotto on a poster to help his side to a 97-78 win at home over the 36ers.

Days after they went down to the Taipans in overtime, the defending champions bounced back in style with four players reaching double figures on Sunday afternoon.

Derrick Walton Jr was the standout with 16 points and 11 assists, but it was Cooks who made all the highlight reels after his vicious dunk in the third quarter which even impressed last season’s finals MVP.

The hosts dominated the paint and protected the ball, while it was also encouraging to see Dejan Vasiljevic return to form from behind the arc with a few triples in his 15-point haul.

It was a fair effort by Cooks who was spotted at the Olympic Park Subway two hours before tip-off ordering the meal that fuelled the epic dunk.

“I think it’s probably behind the one on (Isaac) Humphries,” Kings coach Chase Buford said.

“He pissed off a whole nation with that one tonight.

“I think he’s by far the best player in this league.”

Teammate Tim Soares was equally impressed.

“That was nuts,” he said.

“I had to watch on the replay. He’s crazy.”

Cooks finished with 15 points and six rebounds in the comfortable win, but it was Walton who controlled the contest with a double-double that included a no-look pass to Justin Simon who punished the rim with a one-handed finish.

“Derrick did a great job offensively of getting us into the flow providing opportunities for others and himself,” Buford said.

“He had a great game as a floor general.”

This was the cruisy performance the Kings needed after a couple of pulsating wins at home that required buzzer-beating threes to get the job done.

The hosts dominated the paint and protected the ball, while it was also encouraging to see Dejan Vasiljevic return to form from behind the arc with a few triples in his 15-point haul.

Daniel Johnson did everything in his power to help his side upset the champs but he needed way more support from his Adelaide teammates, with some of their big names going missing on Sunday.

While Johnson led all scorers with 21 points, skipper Mitch McCarron finished with just three points and didn’t make a field goal, while Robert Franks recovered from a scoreless first quarter to post 16 points and five rebounds.

It’s a costly loss for the 36ers who are now 6-6 for the season and have fallen two wins behind the Phoenix, although they do have a couple of extra games to play, starting with a showdown at home against Perth on Friday.

All eyes will be on the 36ers and whether they make a roster move next week with coach CJ Bruton indicating a decision will be made soon after his side failed to lead at any stage in Sydney.

“We’ll have a shortlist soon,” he said.

“Once we have a shortlist, we’ll narrow it down and present it to the players to know what we’re thinking, and then we’ll hear their thoughts.”

MATCH OF THE YEAR

There won’t be long for the Kings to celebrate with their attention quickly shifting to a showdown with the Breakers in a battle between the NBL’s top two teams.

Thursday’s match in New Zealand comes a few weeks after the Kings nearly let a big lead slip over there after Cooks limped off with an ankle injury.

“In a lot of ways we disappointed ourselves closing the game out. Hopefully we’ll learn,” Buford said after their narrow win earlier in the season.

“They’re a really good team and they’re going to come out and physically try to impose themselves on us. I’m excited for the game.”

Jackies’ star Doyle sinks brave Bullets

-Greg Davis

JackJumpers import Milton Doyle shot the lights out and broke Brisbane hearts with a matchwinning 33-point haul in Tasmania’s 99-84 win over the brave Bullets on Sunday.

The sweet-shooting Doyle had 11 points in the second term alone to repel the Bullets who were without three players from their normal rotation due to injury – Aron Baynes, Tyrell Harrison and Tanner Krebs.

The scores were level at 80-all midway through the final quarter but Doyle put the game on ice with his picture-perfect jumpshot to steer the JackJumpers to a 7-6 record with five of those victories coming on the road.

Doyle also had nine rebounds and three assists with a shooting clip of 12 of 19 (five of 10 from three-point territory).

The final margin did not indicate how tight the contest was for most of the afternoon with Jack McVeigh (16 points) and Josh Magette (13 points) helping Doyle put the Bullets away.

Brisbane showed enough fight and focus in their third game under interim head coach Sam Mackinnon that the Bullets should make the NBL legend their fulltime mentor as the undermanned home side battled manfully under the weight of a growing injury list.

The Bullets slipped to 4-8 with Nathan Sobey top-scoring with 20 points while Tyler Johnson, DJ Mitchell and Gorjok Gak provided good support.

Sobey had nine points in the spirited third quarter that finished with Tasmania holding a slender two-point cushion after a run of calls against Brisbane late in the term.

Brisbane’s crisp ball movement and defensive intensity allowed the home side to jump out to an early 24-13 lead but Tasmania eventually found their range to close the gap to 27-24 by quarter-time.

Bullets jumped out to another fast start in the second term but Doyle and fellow import Magette kept the JackJumpers in touch to see the teams locked together at 54-all at halftime.

GAK STEPS UP

With the tall timber duo of Aron Baynes and Tyrell Harrison out of action again, Brisbane’s towering Gorjok Gak stepped into the void with some intensity and explosiveness. He had six of Brisbane’s first nine points with two thunderous two-handed dunks to go with three boards and a block before some early foul trouble halted his momentum. A missed dunk and a goal tending call went against him but an emphatic block on Will Magnay in the third quarter brought the fans to their feet before he finished with an impressive 14 points, nine rebounds and two blocks.

MAGNAY’S RETURN

Former Bullets and New Orleans Pelicans bigman Will Magnay has had a quiet comeback from injury with the JackJumpers. He had three points, four rebounds and a block in his two matches before heading back to his old stomping ground on Sunday. He had three points, two boards and one spectacular assist by halftime against Brisbane who were being coached by his former mentor Sam Mackinnon. He made two important buckets in the tense final quarter on the way to 10 points for the match.

REF REGRETS

The NBL does not public criticism of referees. Maybe the truth hurts too much because the standard is not getting any better. It’s an issue whether they like it or not. Both sides were left befuddled by inconsistent calls on Sunday with the level of allowable contact and the level of whistle from the officials swinging wildly from end to end and quarter to quarter. Not good enough for a league that self-proclaims to be the second-best in the world.

ANOTHER SON OF A GUN

Brisbane added guard Koen Sapwell – son of former NBL forward Rupert – to their roster as cover for the injured Tanner Krebs to take Brisbane’s tally of father-son combinations to play in the NBL to six. Krebs (father Dan), DJ Mitchell (Mike), Jason Cadee (Robbie), Hunter Clarke (Marty) and Harry Froling (Shane) are the other Bullets with two generations of NBL in their bloodlines. Young Sapwell grew up in South Australia and represented the state in under-age teams before heading to the US to play college ball. He was in the South East Melbourne Phoenix squad last season.

United continue poor form after loss to Phoenix

– Ronny Lerner 

Melbourne United’s season is on life support after losing to cross-town rivals South East Melbourne 78-72 in the third ‘Throwdown’ of the summer at John Cain Arena on Saturday night.

United (5-9) have now lost their last four games, and the result saw them slide to second-last on the ladder, four wins adrift of the top six at the halfway point of their campaign.

Meanwhile, the Phoenix (8-6) rebounded impressively from their thumping loss to New Zealand on Thursday night to re-enter the top four and improve their season record against United to 2-1.

The Phoenix never found themselves behind United at any stage, and even led by 12 points a few times in the second quarter.

But despite that, they were seriously tested by United who refused to throw in the towel all night, and came agonisingly close to snatching the lead on numerous occasions.

With 3:53 to go, Melbourne sharpshooter Chris Goulding drained a spectacular contested three against two Phoenix defenders at the top of the arc to level the game at 72-72.

And then with a couple of minutes remaining, David Barlow and Goulding had another couple of chances from beyond the arc to even proceedings again at 75-75, but they both missed, and Rayjon Tucker failed to convert the offensive rebound.

South East ultimately scored the last six points to survive the late United surge.

UNITED GENEROUSLY GIVE AWAY CHARITY

The story of the night was at the free-throw line. In such a tight game, United basically handed the result on a platter to the Phoenix who had a whopping 35 shots from the charity stripe, converting 25 of them, compared to Melbourne who were only 4-8 in the same stat.

In fact, United shot only two free throws the entire first half, failing to nail either of them, while South East were 11-17 at the major break.

PHOENIX FIVE HIT BACK

After having their colours lowered badly by the Breakers 48 hours previously, the Phoenix starting five responded emphatically.

Alan Williams (18 points, 12 rebounds and two steals) and Mitch Creek (16, six and three) starred again, but this time Gary Browne (17, eight, two and seven assists), Trey Kell (14 points and four steals) and Ryan Broekhoff (10 and nine rebounds) came to the party.

For United, Xavier Rathan-Mayes finished with 15 points, seven assists, a steal and a block, Goulding had 13 points and new import Marcus Lee impressed with 10 points eight rebounds and two blocks.

TUCKER, LEE COMBINE TWICE

United’s American imports Marcus Lee and Rayjon Tucker combined in the first and second quarters for a pair of beautiful alley-oop dunks. Tucker was the provider on both occasions as Lee got up high and stuffed both assists into the hoop with a couple of authoritative two-handed jams.

Adelaide produce record comeback to stun Taipans

– Jason Phelan

Adelaide was in desperate need of a hero and it was Robert Franks who donned the cape, the star import draining the foul shots that capped a furious fightback, which sealed a stunning come-from-behind win against fast-starting Cairns on Friday night.

The disjointed Sixers trailed by as much as 19 points, but stormed back to claim a 78-75 win, the biggest comeback victory of the NBL season.

In a frantic finish, Franks was fouled by Tahjere McCall with scores tied as he attempted a matchwinning three-pointer with 2.3 seconds left on the clock.

Cairns coach Adam Forde challenged the call, but was unsuccessful, Franks draining all three foul shots to seal a remarkable win at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre.

The Taipans had one last chance to steal the result when Robert Franks celebrated prematurely and was called for a travel with 1.4 seconds remaining.

But DJ Hogg’s desperate attempt from long range rimmed out.

The Sixers led with the first two points of the game 90 seconds in, then trailed until just under a minute left when Antonius ‘Cleveland put them back in front.

Cleveland starred with 23 points, with Franks (15) and Daniel Johnson (10) also important.

McCall led the way with 24 points, but it was a poor second half-performance by the visitors.

The Sixers’ missed the energy of Anthony Drmic, who has impressed in a starting role in place of released import Craig Randall II, with the 30-year-old sidelined with a back injury.

HOME GROAN

The Sixers have endured a home court disadvantage this season, with their only other win at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre coming back on October 15 against last-placed Illawarra.

Adelaide had a 1-3 home record going in, compared to the Taipans’ 5-1 road record and the contrasting fortunes quickly became apparent in another listless start by the Sixers in front of their home fans.

Bruton’s men opened the game shooting 1-6 from the floor, while the red-hot visitors went on a 9-0 scoring run to lead by 15 points at the first break.

Cairns shot 47 per cent from the floor in the first term and committed one turnover, while the stone-cold Sixers shot 29 per cent and lost the ball seven times.

Franks was emblematic of his side’s struggles with no points in the first quarter and just five at halftime on 2-from-10 shooting, Adelaide recording its lowest first-half score under Bruton to trail 47-32.

THIRD-TERM TROUBLE

While the 36ers have been troubled by sluggish starts, the Taipans’ Achilles Heel has been poor third quarters.

The issue reared its ugly head again with scoring drying up for Cairns.

The Taipans were outscored 23-16 in the third and shuddered to a near halt in the last with just 12 points to Adelaide’s 23.

IMPORT ISSUES

The Sixers played their first match at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre since firebrand import Randall was released, Bruton’s side going on a three-game road trip after the international break.

The Sixers had a 3-1 record since Randall’s departure as well as a win against Illawarra when the controversial American was sidelined by a chest injury, leaving some to argue the improved team chemistry meant Bruton didn’t necessarily need to find a replacement import.

But that argument didn’t hold up in a disappointing first half.

“I don’t know who their go-to guy is,” NBL legend Lanard Copeland said in ESPN’s coverage.

“When you’re struggling like this you should have a go-to-guy and they don’t have him.”

Out of form Bullets stun Wildcats in Brisbane

– Greg Davis 

If Perth were serious about returning to the NBL play-offs this season, the one-time powerhouse needed to come into Brisbane on Thursday night and take care of business against the horribly out-of-form and Aron Baynes-less Brisbane.

But the Wildcats continued their wretchedly inconsistent campaign as the Nathan Sobey-inspired Brisbane found their missing spark and produced a stunning turnaround performance in the 106-95 overtime victory over Perth.

The teams were locked together at 92-all at the end of regulation time but Brisbane executed much better at both ends of the floor in the extra five minutes to improve their record to 4-7 while the Cats slipped to 5-7.

It was a remarkable comeback from Brisbane who were putrid in the 37-point loss to New Zealand on Sunday and were without Baynes again due to back soreness.

The laser-focused Sobey had 28 points for Brisbane who climbed back into the contest with a 23-13 run in the third term while Perth were best served by star guard Bryce Cotton who had a game-high 30 points.

Brisbane led by 10 early in the last quarter but Perth fought back to level the scores at 90-all with 32 seconds left on the clock.

Bullets forward Harry Froling was fouled outside the three-point line with 30 seconds on the clock and knocked down just one of his three free throws before being awarded another shot after the Wildcats broke early.

Perth responded with a slam dunk from Luke Travers to tie up the game once again and it into overtime.

Brisbane admitted to being “bullied” in an “unacceptable” performance in the 37-point loss to New Zealand last Sunday just days after sacking head coach James Duncan and they showed some sort of response to jump out to an early 12-6 lead on the way to a 27-25 buffer at quarter-time.

However, turnovers and defensive breakdowns crept into their game in the second term and the Wildcats pounced with Cotton leading the way for the visitors who edged to a 52-47 cushion by the main break.

TANNER KREBS IMPRESSES

One of the shining lights in an otherwise dreary post FIBA break period Brisbane has been swingman Tanner Krebs.

He had 19 points against New Zealand and backed it up with 18 points against Perth including two big three-pointers in the third term when the Bullets made a charge.

Krebs showcased his all-court versatility with a nice steal, behind-the-back flick pass and lay-up in the one play when Brisbane were on top in the first quarter. A nasty ankle injury unfortunately ended his night.

PERTH’S REBOUNDING STRUGGLES

Perth’s calling card during their extraordinary period of sustained success was their rebounding – especially the way they crashed the offensive glass.

It has been one of their major flaws in their 2022-23 NBL campaign with the Cats finishing on the wrong side of the rebounding ledger in every game before Thursday night. The Bullets were without twin towers Aron Baynes and Tyrell Harrison due to injury but still beat the Cats on the boards by 52-41.

DISAPPOINTING HOME CROWD

Thursday night is a tough sell at the best of times. But throw in Brisbane’s poor season to date, no Aron Baynes due to a back injury and persistent rain all day and it was the perfect storm for a paltry crowd.

Nissan Arena was half full – at best – at tip-off. Brisbane need to keep playing like that or the joint will be a ghost town over the glut of home games during the Christmas-New Year period.

BRYCE’S BRISBANE BOOM

Bryce Cotton seems to like playing Brisbane. For an extended period, he owned the Bullets with the three-ball his key weapon.

He has found other ways to shoot down Brisbane in more recent times but his potency from beyond the arc returned. He had 12 points by halftime with three triples and three free throws (after being fouled outside the three-point line) and 30 by the end of the game.

Breakers deliver reality check to Phoenix

– Ronny Lerner

If South East Melbourne fancied themselves as NBL title contenders this season, they received a sobering reality check on Thursday night from league-leading New Zealand who obliterated the Phoenix 110-84 at Christchurch Arena.

A first-half Breakers scoring extravaganza saw the hosts set up the win as they opened up a matchwinning 63-39 lead at the major break, and the difference blew out to 30 points late in the game (105-75).

After a tight start to the match, New Zealand split the contest wide open when they inserted bench players Barry Brown and Robert Loe into the game.

The duo powered a blistering 23-5 run to give their team a commanding 14-point lead at the first change (37-23).

The Breakers dominated in transition and with Brown (11) and Loe (11) combining for 22 points on 7-9 shooting from the field, including 4-4 from long range, the hosts took full control in the opening term.

Brown was the star of the show, scoring 21 of his 31 points in the first half, finishing the game with an 11-18 clip from the field (61 per cent), including 4-6 from three (66), while also picking up a steal.

South East struggled to make any inroads in the second period, and another devastating 19-7 run from the Breakers, inspired once again by Brown, saw them shoot out to an ominous 24-point buffer at half-time to swiftly end the contest.

The Phoenix could not stop the hosts’ free-flowing offence as New Zealand finished the first half going at 60 per cent from the field (21-35) and a gobsmacking 66 per cent from three (10-15), compared to South East‘s 48 per cent (13-27) and woeful 12 per cent (1-8) in those respective categories.

New Zealand also destroyed South East 37-0 in bench points in the first half, while the Phoenix tripled the Breakers for turnovers (9-3) in the same time frame.

The Breakers finished up with far superior field (39-69 at 56 per cent), three-point (14-25 at 56) and free-throw (18-21 at 85) shooting, as South East recorded 48 per cent (30-62), 22 per cent (5-22) and 67 per cent (19-28) respectively.

The hosts also demolished the Phoenix for bench points 62-16.

Loe ended up with 17 points for the Breakers, while Jarrell Brantley (18) and Will McDowell-White (14 and 11 assists) were also influential.

For South East, Alan Williams was superb in a losing cause, scoring 29 points on 12-15 shooting and picking up 13 rebounds as well as two steals. Mitch Creek also tried hard with 19 points.

HISTORIC START FOR NZ

New Zealand’s quarter-time score of 37 points was their highest-ever tally to that stage of a game in the 10-minute-period era, in which they have played 413 games. They also became the first NBL team to score at least 63 points in back-to-back first halves since 2010. New Zealand also scored 100 points in consecutive games for the first time since 2019. They’ve now won five games in a row and have won their season series against South East 2-1.

BROWNE BOMBER

Gary Browne had a game he would rather forget. He headed into the clash averaging 8.5 assists a game this season, but failed to register a dime from 19 minutes of court time, and ended up with just five points and five turnovers, including all four of his team‘s first-quarter turnovers. He finished the game on the bench with an ankle injury which could put him in doubt for their meeting with Melbourne United on Saturday night.

RARE PHOENIX FLOP

The Phoenix have suffered just their second loss of the season from eight games with the starting five of Trey Kell, Browne, Williams, Ryan Broekhoff and Creek.

Originally published as NBL23 round nine: Sam Froling fires Hawks to upset win, embarrassing Melbourne United

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In the combat sports world, there is rarely a press conference or weigh in where a fighter won’t say they’re the toughest in the sport.

Aussie cruiserweight champion Jai Opetaia lives what he preaches.

Watch Boxing Live & On-Demand on Kayo. Selected international fights, classic bouts and more. New to Kayo? Start your free trial now >

The 27-year-old Opetaia cleaned out the Australian market with 21 straight professional wins going into his July fight against then cruiserweight king Mairis Briedis.

He had fought for most of his career with a broken left hand which was fixed just before his title shot against Briedis, before it was postponed again after Opetaia fractured his rib leading into the fight.

The youngster knew all about pain heading into the biggest moment of his life.

But while it was clear he was tough, no one believed he could withstand the pain he copped in the ring against Briedis.

Opetaia’s jaw was broken in the early rounds, an injury which would floor most fighters.

It only got worse in the 10th or 11th round when he broke the other side, leaving his mouth hanging agape, disconnected from his skull.

On the night, ringside doctor Ben Mannion put the physical feat of toughness in perspective after the fight.

“One of the guys asked does it normally break on both sides after it’s broken on one side and I said, ‘People don’t normally compete after that time’,” he said.

So when Opetaia says he’s tough, they’re not just words.

And when he says he wants to take out the entire cruiserweight division, he’s not kidding.

“These guys aren’t willing to go how deep I’ll f**king go for this,” Opetaia told news.com.au.

“They’re not willing to go to the level I will go. I’m willing to die for this s**t, I put my life on the line every day for this s**t.

“The physical pain I went through, you know, it doesn’t even compare to the emotional pain that feeds up to a fight. That gruelling loneliness that you go through to get to a world title. People don’t understand their sacrifice.

“I’ve done it, you know, myself out of some deep dark f**king holes and giving up was never even an option, it wasn’t even a thing that crossed my mind. What’s a broken jaw to a f**king lifetime of sacrifice?

“Any one of these guys that would have broke their jaw in the third round would have stopped there ‘no, no, I can’t fight’. F**k that. I’ll risk it all for what I believe.”

It’s been a gruelling recovery for Opetaia, who has three plates and 12 screws in his jaw after the horrific aftermath of his injury.

After a laborious few months out of the ring doing what he could do to stay fighting fit, Opetaia is back at work, looking to a March return date and title defence.

Who that fight will be remains to be seen as Poland’s Mateusz Masternak defeated Aussie Jason Whateley in the IBF title eliminator in October to earn a mandatory shot at the belt.

But Opetaia is looking at the entire division, including WBO champion Lawrence Okolie, who called out the Aussie straight after his win over Briedis.

He added: “He’s gotta enjoy tht belts but OMG, what a fight had just been set up. Imma show Briedis how it’s f**king done.”

It’d be a great fight and unify two of the four belts in the division but Opetaia had a message for the Londoner.

“He fights when I say we fight,” Opetaia said.

“He’s been at the top for ages, he’s been up there doing what he does but I’m telling you right now, I beat Okolie. Quote that, I will beat Okolie when I fight him.

“He’s a great fighter, he’s a very awkward sort of long fighter, he’s got some decent power – but he’s not Jai Opetaia.”

There are plenty of options out there as well for Opetaia.

Since undisputed champion Oleksandr Usyk moved up to heavyweight, where he added three of the belts after defeating Anthony Joshua twice, the four cruiserweight titles are separated.

Opetaia has the IBF title, Okolie the WBO, 29-2 Congolese champion Ilunga Makabu has the WBC and 27-0 Armenian Arsen Goulamirian has the WBA belt.

There are also very highly rated Brits littering the rankings including Chris Billam-Smith, who is in the top seven of all four rankings, that could be a path for the Aussie.

“The next fight will be a world title fight, whether I’m defending it or fighting for another one,” Opetaia said.

“There’s been a few names thrown at me and to be honest, I don’t give a f**k who I fight in my next fight, I do not care.

“Whoever pays me the most, let’s get it on.

“But when you come do not disappoint me, because I’m coming in hard. I’ve been training hard, I do everything 100 per cent and every fight I have, I want to make history, to be a part of the legacy.

“I’d love to be a part of the biggest fight nights here in Australia. But I’m ready to get it on.”

Opetaia added he had “done my apprenticeship” but that he would fight anywhere to ensure the world’s respect and attention.

“If I have to go to England to prove it, then so be it,” Opetaia said.

“If they say the right price, I’m there.

“I’ve already seen it, I know, I believe it in my heart I can beat these guys, all of them. I can conquer this whole division, I can win every belt in this cruiserweight category, I know I can.”

I am back playing KFC SuperCoach BBL and I have one man in my sights: KFC SuperCoach Ambassador and my Fox Cricket colleague, Mike Hussey.

But I know I have my work cut out for me trying to compete with Mr SuperCoach.

I have tended to lose my way in the last couple of seasons with uncertainty around teams and grounds but I’m ready to take it all the way this season and follow in the footsteps of Shane Warne. Starting strong has never been an issue, and I have loaded up on options playing twice in the opening round to give me the best chance of success.

Here is how my starting side is shaping up for the KFC SuperCoach BBL season.

WICKETKEEPERS

Josh Philippe (Sixers) WKP-BAT $166,300

Josh Inglis (Scorchers) WKP-BAT $87,000

Two of the most destructive players in the BBL in recent times make up my keeping ranks. Philippe is very consistent and he generally starts BBL seasons strongly, while Inglis has just spent a lot of the time on the bench at the T20 World Cup – I expect him to be raring to go for the Scorchers’ after a round 1 bye.

BATTERS

Daniel Sams (Thunder) $179,300 BAT-BWL

Alex Hales (Thunder) $130,300 BAT

Rilee Rossouw (Thunder) $105,000 BAT

Jake Weatherald (Strikers) $87,100 BAT

Marcus Stoinis (Stars) $83,400 BAT-BWL

Harry Nielson (Strikers) $62,500 BAT-WKP

Josh Brown (Heat) $42,000 BAT

All of my on-field batters play twice in the opening round. Hales is self-explanatory after scoring more runs than any player in the last three BBL seasons, along with his triumphant return for England at the T20 World Cup. Rossouw is coming off a big World Cup hundred and is very cheap, while Sams is a reliable all-rounder who scores points with both bat and ball.

Meanwhile, Weatherald is my first-round punt. He didn’t have the best return in his last BBL campaign but he is a cheap option who can come off – and he has just five per cent ownership in KFC SuperCoach BBL. Stoinis picks himself at that price and he can offer with both bat and ball.

BOWLERS

Matt Short (Strikers) $197,500 BWL-BAT

Rashid Khan (Strikers) $193,600 BWL (C)

Trent Boult (Stars) $180,000 BWL

Andre Russell (Renegades) $145,000 BWL-BAT

Adam Zampa (Stars) $103,600 BWL

Will Sutherland (Renegades) $62,000 BWL-BAT

Lance Morris (Scorchers) $62,500 BWL

The toughest call in my starting side is Andre Russell vs Shadab Khan. The Pakistan all-rounder had a brilliant World Cup, but Russell has plenty of potential with his batting strike rate and wicket-taking. I am not sure where the Renegades will bat Russell, but I think I will start him and then switch to Khan later in the season.

Short opens the batting and was getting through four overs with the ball last season – a role that screams KFC SuperCoach BBL points. His teammate Khan will be my round 1 captain. The Afghan tweaker is high quality: he takes wickets, keeps things tight and can go at an amazing strike rate with the blade.

Boult can take wickets at the start of the innings and is very good at the death, which is key for any successful bowler in KFC SuperCoach BBL. One of the best T20 leg spinners in world cricket rounds out my team in Zampa, who is coming off strong World Cup and one-day form.

FIVE NEW INTERNATIONALS TO WATCH

All Big Bash fans and KFC SuperCoach players know Rashid Khan, Andre Russell, Alex Hales, James Vince and Colin Munro.

But what about the international imports playing in their first BBL tournament?

Isa Guha outlines five new faces to watch and what they can offer in KFC SuperCoach BBL.

Faf Du Plessis (Scorchers) $180,000 BAT

I’ve watched a lot of Du Plessis in the T20 format and he is superb against both pace and spin. The South African superstar brings a wealth of experience to the Scorchers and can get their batting innings off to a good start – and that means big points in KFC SuperCoach. Du Plessis has a bye first up, but will be the No.1 trade target ahead of the Scorchers’ round 2 double.

Shadab Khan (Hurricanes) $125,000 BAT-BWL

Khan is one of Pakistan’s best limited overs players. He offers so much with the ball with his leg spin and bowled some key overs in the World Cup, where he took 11 wickets. Outside of the powerplay he can keep things tight and pick up wickets and he is more traditional as a leg-spinner than his namesake, Rashid Khan. With the bat he has been used as high as number three in the Pakistan Super League and he has been shuffled up the order as a pinch-hitter for his country as well.

Zak Crawley (Hurricanes) $125,000 BAT

Crawley is still finding his way in Test cricket but a run-a-ball ton in the first Test in Pakistan might be the catalyst he needs to dominate again. In the short format, he has been outstanding domestically where he knows his game pretty well. Crawley is a very good player of the short ball so I think he’ll enjoy these pitches. He won’t be available until at least round 4-5 but watch out for him once he joins the Hurricanes camp.

Luke Wood (Stars) $105,000 BAT-BWL

I have watched him a lot domestically and for England as well. The opening bowler is a good left arm option for the Stars with his aggression, skiddy bounce and array of slower balls.

Fazalhaq Farooqi (Thunder) $105,000 BWL

Watch out for Fazalhaq Farooqi from Afghanistan, an overseas replacement player for Englishman David Willey. A skiddy bowler, Farooqi has good pace and can bowl well at the death.

Originally published as KFC SuperCoach BBL: Isa Guha reveals her team for BBL12

The walk from the ninth green to the scoring area is about 100m at Victoria Golf Club.

Cameron Smith made that walk with either side of the path lined two and three deep by the throng of fans who had come to see the world No.3 try, for a second time, and this time unsuccessfully, to make the first-ever Australian Open Saturday cut.

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One seasoned golf watcher declared “this is Shark type stuff” with every fairway lined from tee to green, from his 7am start, like they were in Greg Norman’s golden days, with some even climbing a TV tower to get a glimpse.

It was an eclectic mix of old and new golf fans who have been drawn to the mulleted superstar who conceded he was “a few too many beers deep”, watching the races at Moonee Valley on Friday night, when he realised he’d have tee it up again, and early, having finished his second round on Friday out of contention and confident his 2022 was done.

“I was pretty quick to the pub (after Friday) and yeah and was probably a few too many beers deep and then I realised we had an early tee time,” Smith said, pub trips having been a constant since his return home less than two weeks ago.

“So I got back on the waters and was a good boy the rest of the night.

“I thought I had it in me today and hit lots of good golf shots, and yeah, just couldn’t really capitalise.”

It had been a less than inspiring week on the course from the reigning British Open champion, his third round one-under 69 his only in red figures, and his finish outside the top 50 something rare to him, especially in 2022.

Smith has registered five wins and collected more than $20 million in prizemoney, to go with his estimated $140 million cheque for joining Greg Norman’s LIV golf.

But the joy on his face just for being home, having spent last week at his mum’s house in Brisbane as he won the Australian PGA, made up for his underwhelming Australian Open effort.

“I’ve been busy the last 12 months, so I haven’t really had time to really sit down and actually just think about (his achievements). It’s all kind of been work,” Smith said.

“It will be nice over Christmas to enjoy Christmas with the family again. I’m looking forward to a lazy week, to be honest.”

Fishing is on his plan, but not in the “bigger boat” he treated himself to as a reward for his massive year. That’s at home in Florida.

Time in the gym is also on the agenda. It was a key plank in his ascension to within a whisker of the world No.1 ranking, an achievement now not possible after his LIV move.

But there’s a British Open defence to prepare for still, another tilt at the Masters as well, incentive for Smith to use the “blueprint” he’s established to take his already world-beating game to another level when he starts his 2023 campaign at the LIV Saudi Invitational in February.

“I think I have a tendency to get a little bit lazy at times I think, but I think I just need to do the same things, just better and probably a little bit more often,” he said.

“I’m really looking forward to what I can do next year. Hopefully I can keep improving and have plenty of years like this, would be awesome.”

Read related topics:Melbourne

Eddie Jones is set to be sacked as coach of England’s rugby team any day now.

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) have not confirmed Jones’ exit, ahead of Tuesday’s board meeting.

But The Sun reports despite fighting for his job, the Australian looks doomed.

Jones met with the panel reviewing England’s dismal recent results and RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney will report to his board today.

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The board is set to side with Sweeney whether he decides to back or sack his head coach with the World Cup just nine months away.

Jones, who led the Wallabies to the 2003 World Cup final, was reportedly fearing for his future but was intent on coming out swinging in yesterday’s meeting.

Three of his assistant coaches, Richard Cockerill, Martin Gleeson and Matt Proudfoot, also met the RFU and their futures remain uncertain.

Union chiefs remain concerned about the churn of staff under Jones.

Defence coach Anthony Seibold recently went back to rugby league and medic Richard Tingay left his post.

With Warren Gatland out of the frame after Wales fast-tracked his reappointment to their top job, the RFU have a race against time to fill their hole if Jones exits.

England are due to have a training camp around New Year and face Scotland in their Six Nations opener on February 4, leaving a new coach little time to settle in.

Kiwi Scott Robertson, who was recently in England to coach the Barbarians, is thought to have been contacted by the RFU as a potential replacement

Robertson has won six Super Rugby championships with the Crusaders and the New Zealand outfit would need paying off if England came calling.

Jones led England a Grand Slam in 2016 after taking over following the 2015 World Cup and led England to the final at the 2019 World Cup.

On the way to the final against South Africa they destroyed New Zealand in the semi-final, in England’s best performance since 2003.

He also won two series in Australia and three Six Nations titles.

This article originally appeared in The Sun and was reproduced with permission.

“The situation has understandably resulted in more questions, but it’s certainly intriguing.”

Those were the words I used on July 29, 2021, when reacting to the news that Russell Westbrook would be traded to the Lakers in a blockbuster deal. Nearly a year and a half has passed, and the situation somehow has produced even more questions.

At the time, Westbrook was coming off an impressive run to end his lone season with the Wizards, while the Lakers were coming off a disappointing title defense. Bringing the former MVP to his hometown team was the influx of talent LA needed, right?

As Westbrook and the Lakers return to Washington for the second time since the trade, there’s no better time to revisit the deal that sent him to Los Angeles, starting with the haul itself.

MORE: Why December could be most pivotal stretch of 2022-23 season for Lakers

Russell Westbrook trade details

For a refresher, the trade was a blockbuster in every sense of the word, with five teams, nine players and multiple picks involved.

Specific to the Lakers and Wizards, here’s how things shook out:

  • Lakers get: Russell Westbrook, 2028 second-round pick
  • Wizards get: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell, Kyle Kuzma

Washington also acquired Spencer Dinwiddie from the Nets and Aaron Holiday and Isaiah Todd’s draft rights from the Pacers. The Wizards’ other outgoing player, Chandler Hutchison, was sent to the Spurs.

Kuzma and Todd are the only players from the deal that remain on the Wizards’ roster, but the blockbuster trade made it possible for Washington to transform its roster into what it is now.

  • Harrell was traded to the Hornets for Vernon Carey and Ish Smith.
  • Dinwiddie was traded to the Mavericks for Kristaps Porzingis.
  • Caldwell-Pope and Smith were traded to the Nuggets for Will Barton and Monte Morris.

MORE: Lakers reportedly discussing Russell Westbrook-DeMar DeRozan deal

On the Lakers’ side of things, Westbrook’s fit has been just as complicated as many thought it would be when the trade was first reported. Westbrook is averaging 17.8 points, 7.1 assists and 7.0 rebounds as a Laker, but the numbers don’t tell the entire story.

After butting heads with head coach Frank Vogel in Year 1, Westbrook has seemingly bought into the philosophy of new head coach Darvin Ham, welcoming a reserve role that’s allowed him to thrive. Still, it’s fair to wonder whether the Lakers would have been better off standing pat or pursuing a different deal.

As respectable as Westbrook has been in his new role, his numbers pale in comparison to some of the Lakers’ outgoing players. Kuzma is averaging 20.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game for the Wizards this season, and Caldwell-Pope is averaging 11.2 points per game while shooting 47.9 percent percent from 3-point range for the Nuggets.

Could those players have produced at a similar level had they remained in LA? It’s impossible to know. That’s exactly why blockbuster trades are so fun to revisit.

Atlanta Hawks announcer Bob Rathbun suffered a scary medical emergency while on-air on Tuesday (AEDT).

Prior to Atlanta’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, colour commentator Dominique Wilkins was speaking when Rathbun started convulsing and lost consciousness while live on air.

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The Hawks said in a statement to the NY Post that the 68-year-old Rathbun was dehydrated, and is now “stable and responsive” while undergoing further treatment.

“Prior to tonight’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, play-by-play announcer Bob Rathbun briefly lost consciousness on the court,” the statement said.

“Emergency medical professionals on-site quickly treated Rathbun for dehydration. He is stable, responsive and heading to Emory Midtown (hospital) for further evaluation.”

Bally Sports commentator Kelly Crull tweeted: “For those watching Hawks tonight, thank you for your grace & keep prayers coming. Our partner Bob Rathbun briefly lost consciousness on the court.

“Emergency medical professionals quickly treated him for dehydration — he is stable, responsive & @ Emory Midtown for further evaluation.”

Sports writer Zach Osterman said: “Bob Rathbun is one of the nicest folks I’ve ever gotten to meet in this business. Unflinchingly kind. Hope the news out of Atlanta tonight keeps getting better.”

On the court, Atlanta’s Dejounte Murray scored 34 points and rookie A.J. Griffin — playing in place of late injury scratch Trae Young — tied his career high with 24 points as the depleted Hawks beat the Denver Nuggets 117-109.

Denver’s two-time defending MVP Nikola Jokic scored just four points in the first half before finishing with 24 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

This article originally appeared in the NY Post and was reproduced with permission.

It’s officially summer in Australia, which means that the annual summer of tennis is right around the corner.

Tennis Australia have revealed the full schedule of events to take place in the lead-up to the first Grand Slam tournament of 2023, the Australian Open. 

The calendar includes a combination of ATP and WTA competitions, as well as a brand-new mixed tournament.

Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT have all been selected to host a variety of warm-up events.

The Sporting News takes you through the key upcoming events.

MORE: Who are the highest ranked Australian tennis players?

When does the summer of tennis begin?

The 2023 summer of tennis will begin on December 29 with the group stage of the inaugural United Cup, which sees nations go toe-to-toe in a mixed-team competition format.

The semi-finals and final of the tournament will take place between January 6-8. 

Elsewhere, the Adelaide International will run its two events again next year, along with tournaments in Canberra and Hobart.

Melbourne will then host the Victorian Wheelchair Tennis Open and Melbourne Wheelchair Open in mid-January, with the Traralgon Juniors to be held in regional Victoria.

January 16 will mark the start of the 2023 Australian Open, which is scheduled to wrap up on January 29.

Full Australian 2023 summer of tennis schedule

Date Event Location
Dec 29 – Jan 4 United Cup group stage Brisbane, Perth and Sydney
Jan 1 – Jan 8 Adelaide International 1 Adelaide
Jan 1 – Jan 8 Canberra International Canberra
Jan 6 – Jan 8 United Cup final four Sydney
Jan 9 – Jan 14 Adelaide International 2 Adelaide
Jan 9 – Jan 12 Aus Open qualifying Melbourne
Jan 9 – Jan 14 Hobart International Hobart
Jan 10 – Jan 14 Victorian Wheelchair Tennis Open Melbourne
Jan 13 – Jan 18 Traralgon Juniors Traralgon
Jan 16 – Jan 20 Melbourne Wheelchair Open Melbourne
Jan 16 – Jan 29 Australian Open Melbourne

West Coast forward Isiah Winder is under investigation by the Victorian Police after an alleged incident occurred this past weekend.

“The Eagles have been made aware of an incident in Geelong after the AFL/AFLPA Indigenous and Multicultural Players Summit involving player Isiah Winder,” the club wrote in a statement.

After being delisted by the WA club, the No.57 pick in the 2020 national draft was handed another chance by West Coast when he was recently re-drafted as a rookie having played six games last season.

MORE: ‘Absolute farce’ – AFL legend Kane Cornes criticises Rookie Draft

“The AFL have been informed of the alleged incident and as this matter is currently under investigation by Victoria Police, we are unable to make any further comment,” the club stated.

“The club will fully cooperate with Victoria Police and provide support to Isiah through the investigation.”

More to follow.