Mersey Tigers coach Tony Garbelotto has insisted Sheffield Sharks will be no pushovers despite his team’s tag as favourites going into Sunday’s BBL Cup final at the NIA.

With the holders tagged as outsiders to defend their crown as the Liverpool outfit chase the first part of a potential quadruple, Garbelotto has opened up the battle of mind by praising the work of Atiba Lyons in keeping his side competitive, despite an off-season exodus.

And he has insisted that the Sharks offense can cause Mersey’s defence problems in the showpiece tie.

“Atiba’s not only overhauled a talented roster during the summer, but he’s come back with a more balanced team who have more weapons,” said Garbelotto.

Tafari Toney defected to Mersey from Sheffield last summer

“That’s the sign of a really good coach. I’ve got to know him over the course of this season, we talk once a week, and he’s proved me wrong because I though their success last year was a bit of fluke.

“He’s worked really well to fit Olu [Babalola] into the team, even though it’s affected his own minutes.”

It could be an intriguing final, highlighted by a fascinating tactical battle with a series of match-ups holding the key.

“Sunday is going to be very interesting,” Garbelotto said. “Not only is it the best offence in the league against the best defence in the league but there are some nice sub-plots.

“We have three former Sharks – Tap Toney, Perry Lawson and Nate Reinking – against one ex Tiger – Olu Babalola.  On top of this, I really believe this is a heavyweight contest.  I personally think it is to close to call.  It could come down to who has the ball last and that’s very exciting.”

The Tigers go into the game on the back of a mixed weekend where they thrashed Milton Keynes by 20 points before a side missing Nate Reinking [injured], Drew Sullivan and David Aliu [both suspended] lost 91-86 at Plymouth Raiders, but Garbelotto was positive about how his team played in what was only their second BBL Championship loss of the season.

“Sunday was always going to be tough,” he admitted. “We had a combined 50 average points sitting out for the game and I actually thought we were incredible.

“That was the best we have played since our Newcastle semi-final games. Full credit to Gavin [Love] and his team, they made tough shot after tough shot.  In the end it was just too much but I was extremely proud of how our five senior guys performed.”

Reinking’s place in the Tigers team for Sunday remains a doubt due to a calf injury.

The former Sharks star said: “The calf is just normal. I’m taking care of it and the trainers are taking care of me so hopefully by Sunday it’s going to be one hundred percent and I’ll be able to go just like normal.”

The Ohio-born guard is due to meet up with the Great Britain physio team on Wednesday to further investigate his problem.

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