Head coach Ian MacLeod is relishing tonight’s long-awaited return to action as Newcastle Eagles seek to point the way for BBL basketball across the UK.

A pre-season clash against fierce rivals Sheffield Sharks was due to take place in front of 800 fans prior to fresh lockdown measures announced yesterday.

But the match will now take place behind closed doors with supporters able to access a live stream of the hotly anticipated northern derby.

Newcastle’s first fixture since March has been touch and go all week as city council bosses and Public Health chiefs tackle an increase in coronavirus cases across the North East.

But ahead of the UK’s first senior basketball match since the COVID-19 pandemic, MacLeod insisted: “When it comes to tip off against Sheffield my players will be fully focused on what’s happening on court.

“They are professional athletes who have been waiting a long, long time to get back to what they do best.

“They’re only human and of course they’ve been wondering what might happen this week – just like the rest of us.

“There’s an element of uncertainty and a natural curiosity but that hasn’t crept into practice and it’s not affected our preparations.

“The full roster has been together since Monday and we’ve trained every day this week.

“We’re excited that we can play basketball again and we’re treating this match as a key part of our pre-season programme.

“We all wanted some supporters inside the Eagles Community Arena but we understand why that can’t happen now.

“I just hope our fans enjoy watching the stream and getting to know the new guys.”

Newcastle have recruited well during the summer with a slew of new signings set to make their debuts for the GiveToLocal-backed Eagles.

Returning favourites Rahmon Fletcher, Darius Defoe, Drew Lasker and Eddie Matthew will line up alongside fresh faces Evan Maxwell, Justin Gordon, Rex Pflueger, Louis Sayers and Cortez Edwards.

And MacLeod will add rising stars Themba Yabantu, Sauveur Kande and Sean Murphy to the mix as he gets to see his evolving roster in action for the first time.

Another unfamiliar face in the Eagles ranks is newly appointed assistant coach Mark Elderkin.

One of the rising stars of North East hoops coaches Team Newcastle in EBL Division One – where Yabantu and Murphy will gain extra minutes this season.

And MacLeod added: “Mark will be a great addition to my coaching staff and I’m delighted to have him on board.

“We brought Team Newcastle into our player pathway last year and Themba really developed as a player in that environment.”

Elderkin’s father Dave brought the Comets to the city in 1995 to tip off 25 years of top flight basketball on Tyneside.

And the family has been synonymous with basketball in this region for decades.

MacLeod added: “Mark is a natural fit as my number two and I’m really looking forward to working alongside him this season.”

Tonight’s clash tips off at 7:30pm and fans can access a live stream from 7:20pm.

Watch the game on Newcastle Eagles Live