Opals going for sixth Olympics in a row

Opals coach Brendan Joyce loves his fiery pep talks, but given there is an Olympics berth on line he says there won’t be a need for one ahead of Saturday’s clash with New Zealand.

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The game in front of an expected 15,000-strong crowd at Rod Laver Arena is the first of a two-leg series, with the second to be played across the Tasman in Tauranga on Monday.

The winner will earn automatic qualification for the 2016 Rio Games.

Australia has won every Oceania series going back to 1974 and remain undefeated against the Tall Ferns.

But Joyce says that’s no reason for complacency.

“You’re flirting with danger if you drop this first one and you have to go over (to Tauranga and win),” he said.

“You want to try and win by as many points as you can.

“If you get that opportunity to get on top, you want to stay on top and keep building. It’s crucial.”

Three-time Olympic medallist Laura Hodges said while the side was confident, having a two-game series made it a more difficult task.

“It’s like an 80-minute game,” she said.

“It certainly will get quite physical but that’s good for women’s sport, good for basketball, and it’s good for young kids to be able to watch us play in Australia.”

Joyce, who has been at the helm since 2013 and led the Opals to a bronze medal at last year’s World Championships in Turkey, said there’d be no pre-match performance from him to motivate the team.

“You’d be surprised, I’m pretty low-key before the game,” he said with a smile.

“It’s all about the preparation and the process.

“I’ll send them some messages of what we need to do, but I think the girls will be fired up anyway. It’s a pretty special night.”

The Opals will be missing arguably their biggest name in Liz Cambage.

Cambage failed to get medical clearance after an 11-month lay-off with a ruptured achilles, after skipping a team camp to fulfil a professional commitment at Splendour in the Grass.

Coach Kennedy Kereama is hoping her exclusion plays into the Tall Ferns’ hands.

“It’s an incredible loss for the Opals not to have her,” he said.

“It means we have one less player we have to worry about, but at the same time both teams house a lot of quality players.

“We’re very confident after the build-up we’ve had and we’ll be backing ourselves 100 per cent.”

THE OPALS’ UNDEFEATED OCEANIA CHAMPIONSHIP RECORD AGAINST THE TALL FERNS

1974 – Australia 3-0

1978 – Australia 3-0

1982 – Australia 3-0

1985 – Australia 2-0

1989 – Australia 3-0

1990 – Australia 3-0

1995 – Australia 2-0

1997*- Australia 2-0

2001 – Australia 2-0

2003 – Australia 2-0

2005 – Australia 3-0

2007 – Australia 2-0

2009 – Australia 2-0

2011 – Australia 3-0

2013 – Australia 2-0

*New Caledonia also played in this series