ANDREW Bridge insists that Newcastle Eagles have “no fear” about entering the Mersey Tigers’ den tonight as they shoot for a seventh straight BBL Trophy final.
The in-form Eagles are itching for revenge against Tony Garbelotto’s league leaders, having lost heavily at the Echo Arena twice already this season.
A big league defeat for a rusty Eagles side in September was followed by a second-leg loss that knocked them out of the BBL Cup – particularly galling after Fab Flournoy’s side had established a seven-point first-leg lead.
The Eagles will get the chance for some payback against their old rivals tonight as they begin a two-legged semi-final contest with big significance for both teams.
Newcastle are defending the Trophy for the third successive season while the Tigers – boosted by former Eagle Drew Sullivan – are looking to send a message to their rivals after a recent wobble that saw them lose three straight games.
It all adds up to a potentially fascinating contest – one that Bridge believes is balanced on a knife edge.
“In some ways it is probably the biggest rivalry in the BBL – both teams seem to be there or thereabouts and we’ve had some really good matches over the years,” Bridge said.
“Over the last three years we’re really happy with how our form has been against the Tigers but yes, they’ve done well against us this year – especially on their own court.
“But we’re not scared by that. We’re happy with how we’re playing and I think it will be a very different Newcastle Eagles side playing them than it was earlier in the season.
“We’re playing much more consistently than we were. At the start of the season we were performing well over 15 to 20 minutes, in the early or middle stages of the game.
“But now we’re playing well for 30 to 35 minutes of the game and you’re still to see us get our rewards with the results we’ve had.”
With back-to-back trophy wins and six straight final appearances, history as well as momentum would appear to be on the side of Flournoy’s team – who will play Friday’s second leg at home.
Their recent run of crushing league wins contrasts with the Tigers, their title charge checked by a few notable defeats, including a thrashing in the BBL Cup final that prompted GB skipper Sullivan to post a withering message about the team’s display on Facebook.
All of that means many see this as a golden opportunity for the Eagles to reassert their dominance over their old foes, but Bridge argues against the idea the Tigers are vulnerable.
“I don’t read anything into their recent form – other than the fact they proved how good they are by beating (Cheshire) Jets at the weekend,” he said.
“The criticism they’ve been getting is ridiculous. They started off flying and had one loss before Christmas, which is remarkable.
“Now they’ve lost three in a row which, if you look back, was exactly what we did last year when we won the league. They are a very strong team and with their full side out they’re extremely tough opponents.”
Key to the contest will be making life tough for Sullivan, who has masterminded both of the Tigers’ wins against Newcastle this year. Bridge acknowledges they must keep an eye on him.
“I don’t think you’re ever going to stop him – Drew is physically so much more gifted than 99% of the players in the league,” the Eagles skipper said.
“It is about making life as tough as possible for him it is also about keeping everyone else out because he isn’t their only good player.”