Date Time League Season
November 4, 2023 7:30 pm Men's Championship 2023-24

Josh Ward-Hibbert has revealed the British Basketball League’s biggest rivalries are what drive players to hit their competitive peak.

There has never been a keener focus on tonight’s ‘classico’ between Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles and old foes Leicester Riders after both Will Neighbour and Tajh Green were thrown out of last month’s feisty meeting between the two teams on Tyneside.

But Ward-Hibbert described the ‘tension’ and ‘heat’ at the heart of a decades-old battle as a driving force behind a derby-like clash that rarely fails to disappoint.

“Ever since I’ve been playing in this league there’s always been a big rivalry between Leicester and Newcastle,” agreed the former Rider.

“Other teams always tune into those games and there’s a lot of tension and a lot of heat between the two clubs.

“That stems from what’s gone in the past — seven, eight, nine years ago — but also what’s already happened this season.

“For whatever reason the rivalry is intense but it’s something that everyone on this Eagles team will enjoy and live for.”

In the eyes of the officials, big men Neighbour and Green took that rivalry too far after both players were ejected from a typically fractious affair before half time on October 20.

That Newcastle rallied to take the win — avenging defeat in the East Midlands earlier in the season — only served to up the ante ahead of tonight’s Morningside Arena rematch.

But Ward-Hibbert has full confidence that his team-mates will keep it together in front of a hostile homecourt crowd and build on Tuesday’s ENBL win against Basket Brno.

“Things happen in basketball,” he added. “Things can get a little bit heated and chippy.

“I don’t think anyone’s really thinking about what happened last time out. It’s in the past.

“This is a new situation and it’s down at their place so that makes it a little bit trickier. They’ll have the home crowd but we’re going to lock in and treat it like any other game.”

If Newcastle do treat this weekend’s tough challenge in the same way that Marc Steutel’s side approached a difficult midweek assignment, then the Riders will have their work cut out.

A high-tempo victory against Brno was built on intense forecourt pressure, pace in transition and, for the first time this season, a dominant display under the offensive glass.

A second win in nine games saw the men in black bounce back from a confidence-sapping loss against London.

And Ward-Hibbert added: “Coming off the back of a tough game we did what we had to do against Brno.

“The great thing about this team is that we’re staying together in the locker room, through practice and into games. We’re right here together.

“We had some big performances from a few guys offensively and defensively on Tuesday and I think we deserved the win against Brno.

“After the game I felt like the performance could change the trend and motion of our season moving forward.

“We know what we can do — with and without the ball we’re capable of smothering teams.

“If we do what we know we can do on the court then it’s hard for any team to stay with us.

“We’ve got a lot of tough games coming up this month and the schedule is relentless.

“But we’re going to lock into Leicester the same way as we locked into them when we played them in Newcastle last month. We enjoyed the victory on Tuesday but by Wednesday we were already looking towards the Riders.”

Tonight’s action tips off at 7.30pm and is screened live and for free via the British Basketball League’s YouTube channel.