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Wildcats draw on finals pain
Shawn Redhage. Pic: Getty Images

The pain of last season's grand final defeat to New Zealand will provide more than enough motivation for the Perth Wildcats in their season opener in Auckland today.

The Breakers secured their second title with a thrilling 2-1 series win in April, with the deciding game hanging in the balance until the final minute.

Despite several key players carrying major injuries into the decider, the Wildcats pushed the defending champions until Tom Abercrombie's block on Shawn Redhage with just 23 seconds to play sealed their fate.

The underlying theme of the Wildcats' season is redemption as they chase a record sixth championship and first since the drought-breaking 2010 campaign.

Coach Rob Beveridge said seeing the Breakers unfurl their championship banner in front of more than 4000 raucous Kiwi fans at a sold-out North Shore Events Centre would inspire his side.

"It's going to draw us together because that could've been our banner," Beveridge said.

"It's going to be loud, it's going to be packed and it's going to unite us as a group.

"For us to see that is going to bring back some wounds, but we're basing this year on turning that hurt into triumph."

New Zealand are aiming to become the first team to win three successive NBL titles since the Sydney Kings in 2003-05.

They are the only team to have maintained as much stability in the playing group as the Wildcats over the past few seasons and the two sides have already been tipped as the teams to beat.

The Wildcats played their entire nine-game pre-season schedule away from Perth and will play their first five regular-season matches on the road in a gruelling start to the campaign.

They will have travelled about 50,000km before their first home game, in round seven, and co-captain Redhage says the tough schedule will provide the perfect early test.

"We're going to find out where we're at straight away and that's how you'd like it," he said.

Tough Wildcats guard Brad Robbins is still recovering from wrist surgery and has been replaced by promising youngster Ben Purser.

New Zealand will be at full strength, with former Gold Coast Blaze forward Will Hudson featuring for the first time.

Hudson signed for the Breakers after Gold Coast folded. He replaces fellow American Gary Wilkinson.

Both Hudson and forward Dillon Boucher have suffered from illness and missed training sessions this week, but were cleared to play yesterday.

Athletic swingman Abercrombie is yet to reach full fitness following off-season surgery to remove an ankle bone chip but will take his place today.

In today's other game, Wollongong host Sydney at the WIN Entertainment Centre.

NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS v PERTH WILDCATS

North Shore Events Centre, 2.30pm today

Live coverage: NBL.TV, 98.5 Sonshine FM

BREAKERS: Daryl Corletto, Cedric Jackson, Will Hudson, Corey Webster, Tom Abercombie, Mika Vukona, CJ Bruton, Dillon Boucher, Leon Henry, Alex Pledger.

WILDCATS: Greg Hire, Everard Bartlett, Matt Knight, Ben Purser, Cameron Tovey, Kevin Lisch, Jesse Wagstaff, Jeremiah Trueman, Shawn Redhage, Damian Martin.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 33, Breakers 16, Wildcats 17.

FAST FACT: The Breakers (13-1) boasted the best home record last season, while the Wildcats (9-5) were the best team on the road.

KEY MATCH-UP: Cedric Jackson averaged more assists (6.5) and steals (2.2) than any other player last season and also put up 12.8 points a game. If two-time NBL defensive player of the year Damian Martin can keep Jackson quiet, it will go a long way towards the Wildcats causing an upset.

PLAYER MARKET: Breakers $1.47, Wildcats $2.55.

TIP: There’s no doubting it will be another physical instalment of this great modern rivalry. If pre-season form is a guide, the Wildcats should win, but it’s hard to back the away team at New Zealand’s NSEC fortress. Breakers by three points.