When Sinclair McDonald’s Rockingham Flames skipper Ryan Godfrey laces up his size 13 Nike Kyrie 2s ahead of the final game of the inaugural NBL1 West season this Saturday night, he’ll do so exactly as he has done before his previous 271 games at the top level of WA basketball.
But as much as Flames’ match review, scouting and training this week have been as they’ve always been, and as much as the pre-match prep and routines will be done as Godfrey’s always done them, the veteran Flame knows deep down that match 272 is unlike any he’s ever had to prepare for.
The Flames men qualified for the first grand final of their 27-year existence last Saturday night after defeating Lakeside 88-72, ending a long, and at times agonising, journey that Godfrey has been part of for 15 of those long, success-starved years.
While victory against the Perry Lakes Hawks at Bendat Basketball Centre on Saturday night would be a remarkable and well-deserved personal achievement for the loyal 31-year-old playmaker, Godfrey has preferred to approach the week as he has any other, albeit with a bigger picture in mind.
“It’s just another week but you can’t really ignore the fact it’s on different terms,” Godfrey said ahead of his first grand final appearance at any level.
“A championship would be massive, it’s the reason you play basketball. But for me, I’m Rockingham through-and-through, I played all my junior basketball in Rockingham and I’ve never played for another WA club.
“I’ve played with guys who were in similar shoes to me now, where I was the young player and those guys were 30 or so, and we weren’t able to ever get them their reward. As much as it would please me to be a championship winner, it’s not only about me or this group of players, it’s about all the people who have been through this club before us and making them proud to be associated with the Flames.
“I want to win it for them, I want to win it for all the guys who pulled on a Flames jersey over the last 27 years, and I want to do it for Rockingham.”
Standing in the Flames’ way are minor premiers Perry Lakes, who outclassed the Flames in the qualifying final just 13 days ago before comfortably dispatching Perth in last week’s preliminary finals to qualify for their 10th championship decider.
That Hawks victory on August 21 marked the fifth time they’ve defeated the Flames in play-offs games since 2018 – they overturned a game deficit to to knock out the Flames in the 2018 semi-finals and repeated that effort in the first round of the 2019 playoffs – and as painful as those defeats were for Godfrey, he has nothing but respect and praise for the Hawks.
However, he also knows at their best the Flames are capable of beating anyone in the NBL1 West, especially when they’re as focused as the playing group has been this week.
“We’ve had moments throughout the season at training where we’ve mucked about and taken it a little less serious, but this week the focus has been exceptional,” he said.
“I’d be lying if I said it has been a normal week because it’s not. But in terms of our preparation and training that has been consistent with every other week, and we’ve been switched on and focused.
“Perry Lakes is a fantastic team and (Matt) Parsons has done a great job. They’ve been a considerably good team for a while and they finished top for a reason. We know what we’re up against and we can use past series as motivation, but we have to make sure we get everything right on Saturday because they will.
“We beat them earlier in the season without Greg (Hire), without Tom (Jervis), and with Atem (Bior) still finding his feet, so we know we can do it. We’ll make some adjustments from that recent loss and I feel we’ve responded exceptionally well since then.
“Maybe as a group we got a bit complacent because we were on a good winning streak and our winning margins in those games were pretty high, but we got brought back to earth and reminded of what we need to continuing getting better at.”
In NBL championship-winning veterans Hire and Jervis, the Flames can call upon two seasoned pros who have been in this high-pressure situation before, but Godfrey said the team wouldn’t be leaning on them to lead the way this weekend more than they would for any other game, with the focus on a ‘whole team approach’.
“Greg has done what’s he’s done and been very successful, and he provides great leadership, but as a team we aren’t leaning on individuals,” he said.
“We’re all there and this for each other. This is an exceptional group, it really is, and no one is allowing themselves to be taken over by the moment. It’s fantastic we have those guys who have been here before because it provides a level, but we know the job’s not done until we bring home that championship.”
The Flames and Hawks tip-off at 7pm on Saturday night. Limited tickets are still available from the Flames office. You can also watch a live stream here or on Kayo Sports.