Nichey Niche Convo: Spring Time Fabulousity


The leaders of the Niche Cache revolution trade messages, talking all things kiwi sport and being weird…

Diggity Doc - El Wildcard, it's been a while since we have talked and I trust you have been meditating under your avocado tree like Bran Stark under/in a weirwood tree. I wish to get your thoughts on this Australia vs Tonga rugby league thing that happened. Or more to the point - what about everyone else? There are no negatives here, it just seems short-sighted to solely focus on Tonga while Samoa, Fiji, Papa New Guinea, France, Ireland, Italy, Lebanon etc etc aren't partaking in meaningful international rugby league games during this windows. Baby steps I guess, but damn there's more to international rugby league than the big three nations and Tonga.

Wildcard - Dignity Doctor of mystery and funk, my renowned colleague, it’s a pleasure. Although I should say there’s no meditating under the avocado tree, those little buggers are hard and I’m not about to risk the noggin like that. Meditating takes place in the daisy paddock. Yeah I think it’s a fair point to make, that. What Tonga has achieved in the last sorta year or two has been incredible, watching a team outside that big three making that rise and they’ve done it through passionate support and quality performances, earning their seat at the table - and cool to see hat rewarded with high profile games. I guess it’s up to Tonga rugby league to keep up the momentum now and make sure this isn’t just a phase. They’ve laid down the blueprint. It takes more than enthusiasm to spark a revolution but it’s as good a start as any, hopefully we see other nations making a real scene about their rugby league too and it’s up to the big three not to ignore that. I think it was Val Holmes after that game said the only comparable atmosphere he’s played in was in Papua New Guinea... so yeah where was PNG’s game? I hate that money is always such a factor. I hate that the people who could do something about this won’t act until the public pressure is overwhelming.

But I’m enthused by Tonga’s example and I’m choosing to see them as the first team of a new procession of international rugby league. How are you viewing the current international league landscape? It did feel like there was a bit of a World Cup hangover this year, both Oz and NZ in rebuilds, but are the seeds being sewn elsewhere? I guess what I’d like to see most is a scene that isn’t reliant upon Australia, England and Aotearoa.

The juxtaposition of Tonga and NZ playing different games at Mt Smart doesn't reflect all that well of kiwi rugby league, however that's exactly what you would expect given their respective World Cup campaigns ... and post World Cup action. Kiwis are also very different fans to Tongans, an understanding that has me comfortable with where kiwi rugby league is at in terms of public support. The momentum thing is weird because it's momentum and good vibes for Tonga, yet the opposite for Samoa for example. I don't like going too far down these rabbit holes because we expose how silly people running these sports are and it can get super frustrating. I'm doing this balancing act of appreciate the progress we are making via Tonga and highlighting how this centres around Tonga and not their fellow second tier nations.

Which makes sense, because there are pretty intrinsic problems in rugby league where it hasn’t been afforded the priority within the sport all too often... or maybe it can’t afford the priority. But there’s international rugby league and then there’s rugby league internationally. I’m pretty tired of people still not understanding this but Steven Adams not playing for the Tall Blacks reflects nothing of his pride in being from this country, for example.

What he does representing Aotearoa over in the States is doing more for basketball in this country than anyone else possibly ever. Sean Marks helps a tad too, to be fair. So I s’pose there’s work to be done as far as international teams go but they don’t always represent the grassroots foundations being built in countries like PNG and Fiji, which honestly starts the same way as basketball New Zealand which is a young kid grabbing a ball, throwing it at a hoop and yelling ‘I’m Steven Adams!’ But it’s a bloody shame that there’s so often a disconnect there. Still, I’m hoping that the goodwill from Tonga spills over into the rest of the so-called established minnows. Hey speaking of basketball, who’d you prefer seeing punched in the face: Rajon Rondo or Chris Paul?

As long as it isn't Sean Marks or Steven Adams getting touched, I couldn't give a toot. I intentionally zoned out of any NBA off-season stuff after business had been handled because it gets a bit overkill and now it's like 'I'll just start paying attention when it's Christmas'. Having enjoyed some half baked fandom of the Lakers, I'm now all in on the kiwi NBA angle and have happily taken up greater interest in the Brooklyn Nets, then OKC. You'e had plenty on your plate over the last few months so I doubt you were fizzing for the NBA season to start ... maybe curiosity is a better word. Curious to see how young Luka Doncic goes etc.

Something like that, it sure did creep up. But then maybe that’s the wrong way to put it as the NBA has mastered the 12 month calendar these days - the offseason is almost as exciting as the actual season and they damn sure keep it all churning out. Now that games are happening and Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo are fighting and Sean Marks is back in the background weaving his tapestry and Steven Adams is getting rebounds... I’m all the way back in. I’m basically banking on Luka Doncic to be the new Dirk Nowitzki now and that might be a lot to ask but I trust my little Slovenian Dirk. I’m convinced that he was hugely underrated by teams because of the international thing, which is actually an angle that Sean Marks has done a lot with. Drafted a coupe euro lads this year, even. Very Spursy of him. I can’t help but feel that the 12-month NBA calendar is something that other sports are sleeping on though. It’s constant news cycles, constant public interest. Like, the A-League just kicked off and the ol’ Nix got a lovely win and it was good fun churning out Nix stuff during what feels like the longest offseason in the world but damn it got tricky finding unique things to say sometimes. But then the NBA is miles ahead of most sports leagues/comps in most aspects, to be honest.

It doesn't get much better than a sunny long weekend Sunday arvo of Breakers and Phoenix, capped off with Edgar Davids highlights on Youtube. Phoenix were a wee bit better than them Breakers though. Talking about opposites and what not; there are very different vibes coming out of the Breakers and Phoenix aren't there?

Yeah well you know we started this off talking about Tongan rugby league and their fans have gotten so much love for the atmosphere they created, at the moment the new owners at the Breakers are trying to up the experience at their games, more of an NBA feel with courtside seating and all that... but the team has been awful in both home games so far. They did win away in Melbourne but against a team that’d gone to 4OT a few days earlier. Still just the start and I fully expect them to improve but a sloppy start for sure and it’s hard not to think a new coach, new ownership, new on-court direction and heaps of player turnover all at once is a tad too much for an easy transition. Then again, the Welly Nix have all those things too (except for new ownership but just swap that for licence dramas) and they were pretty good in game one. Very similar situations but, yes, very different vibes too. Not sure how to diagnose that but I will say that Mark Rudan’s vision is looking more effective than Kevin Braswell’s so far. Did you spot anything I might’ve missed there? Especially with your proficiency at the Warriors desk considering some contrasting priorities there compared to the new directions of the Breakers who are sorta going away from that kiwi-player-first focus and the Nix who never ever bothered with it.

Also, Edgar Davids is great but the king of the YouTube compo? Brazilian Ronaldo. Didn’t have the longevity or consistency of Messi/Cristiano but his peak was just unbelievable. He could do things nobody else has ever done.

I had never watched Davids on Youtube, but remember dominating with him on Fifia so it was more of a random occurance ... kinda like watching watching Matt Bowen NRL highlights or something.

What I've noted with the Warriors (NZ Warriors) is that it takes having great people in the staff - coaches, trainers, office etc. For so long, the Warriors have brought in new signings and unleashed fresh youngsters but those superficial things never led to any sort of sustained success, or most notably a club that we (fans) are truly, ten-toes-all-in proud of. Players and what not aren't the most important, it's the coach and staff and the environment that they create for the players, then the players act accordingly. Which is exactly what made the Breakers so damn good for so long. And what made the Phoenix very similar to the Warriors; new coaches every season or two, different ideas, different attempts at establishing a culture. The Warriors are on this path and have already laid the foundations of a wholesomely strong club, the Nix are following suit and now it feels like the Breakers have slid back to fill the void left by the other two clubs.

Odd, since the Breakers were the torch bearers for so long. I do think they’ll sort a lot of this out naturally, it’s just a lot to handle all at once. The ability is there to win games - although their rebounding woes were predictable but their three point shooting shockers have not been, dunno what’s up there. I can’t say I’m not concerned about the new regime in charge. The Barstool sports partnership has gotten a lot of heat, I think that’s tacky as much as anything, but right from the start we saw a way more commercial focus, we saw silly viral attempts at publicity... American basketball fans aren’t buying tickets to Spark Arena so I never understood that. No doubt the management themselves are taking it seriously, just gotta figure out a direction that works because the family focused thing was great but crowds were slimming and profits were dwindling. I like that Mark Rudan’s been making a point about holding the Phoenix management to account same as the players because I agree 100% with your point about good people behind the scenes and the suits at the Nix have gotten an easy run for way too long now thanks to all the other dramas.

As kiwi sports fans, we're getting some fantastic examples of what makes a good club and why a club may struggle in these Aotearoa-based teams that compete in Australian competitions. Throw the Warriors women's team in there and the Auckland Tuatara now and we have these teams across different sports who all have the same starting point, they all share the common battle of competing in Australian leagues. From that, seeing how they go about their work and how this influences their success on the field and off the field (competing for fans, dosh etc) is kinda fascinating.

It honestly is and I’m all about looking at how different sports can influence each other. It can take an open mind sometimes which is something of short supply in... well, any situation where making money is a priority (like pro sports) but I’m convinced that football has had a big influence on basketball through folks like Steve Nash, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. The NRL is increasingly drawing from the NFL commercially. The Tuatara will surely be looking to the Breakers and Warriors for guidance. Righto, better gimme some names to look out for this domestic cricket season. The sun is shining, birds are chirping, the fruit trees are delivering their sweet bounty and I’m getting desperate to hear the crack of leather on willow.

You know me Wildcard, I'm all about the youth and this Willem Ludick kid from Central Districts is a bit of a gun. Bats, bowls, doesn't cause a fuss and is loving life while the NZ 'A' lads are away on tour. The other is Henry Cooper, an opener from Northern Districts who hasn't got too much attention but has steadily been chiming in with runs for the Knights and should enjoy consistent selection this season. The schedule is a bit weird, so we're now into Ford Trophy cricket and have to wait until December for some more Plunket Shield stuff, although that will only throw up a few more funky names to keep tabs on.

Beauty. It’d be nice to have a more logical cricketing schedule in NZ (at every level) but all goods. I love the ol’ summer of cricket, aye. Been waiting ages to be able to wear singlets and sunnies again... obviously the jandals are a year round accomplice though. Hey one other thing, did you feel like the Aussie win over Tonga put any different perspective on the Kiwis beating them a week earlier or was it sort of business as usual there?

In the summer, it's jandals. In winter, it's socks and jandals.

Hmm, I do believe what happened in Australia vs Aotearoa had a direct impact on what happened in Australia vs Tonga and thus, highlighted that it was kinda a perfect storm that resulted in the Kiwis getting the win. Something like Luke Keary leaving the field earlier, fluffed Mal Meninga's dummy half rotation for example. Plus the new Kiwi vibes and an Australian team without their immortals ... for the first time in yonks. Everything fell in favour of the Kiwis and they won by 2 points, which essentially fucked up Tonga because Australia weren't going to let that happen again. I'm gonna get super dramatic and suggest that Tonga aren't set up for sustained success and I'm predicting that they'll struggle to get wins over the next 12 months, regardless of who their opponent is. Australia exposed that and Tonga have enjoyed consistent availabilities, which will change throughout this run. That will change and this will coincide with other nations thriving in international rugby league's growth.

I always rate a gutsy prediction, Doc. I’m tempted to make a gutsy call that the Phoenix are gonna win a playoff game this season but I know better than to let myself overreact to a narrow home win. Still, happy vibes and at a time when I can’t seem to enjoy what’s become of my Manchester United it’s a relief to have a summer of Welly Nix and NZ Premiership to look forward to. Anything else on the agenda or should I get back to harvesting the avocados?

Keep an eye on Sean Marks for me will ya. I'll be in hiding from any distracting NBA news as I zone in on the Kiwis tour to England and cricket antics, so I'll be all ears as to Uncle Sean's shenanigans. Otherwise, enjoy the smorgasbord chief.

Shall do. Might even have to get a Sean Marks/Nets article out sometime soon. Keep on rollin’ with the flow, Doc. I’ll be doing the same.

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Peace and love 27.