The Victorian King who can’t stand United SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – DECEMBER 05: Shaun Bruce of the Kings drives to the basket during the round one NBL match between Sydney Kings and Melbourne United at Qudos Bank Arena on December 05, 2021, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)


Sydney Kings guard Shaun Bruce was brought up in Horsham and is a proud Victoria, though if there is one thing he can’t cop it’s Melbourne United.

Sydney Kings guard Shaun Bruce is a proud Victorian, but he’ll happily tell you he dislikes Melbourne United with a passion.

Bruce grew up in Horsham in regional Victoria, so you’d assume he loved the Tigers who dominated the NBL during his youth in the 1990s led by Andrew Gaze, Lanard Copeland and co.

“But I was never a Tigers fan,” Bruce concedes. “I always went for that second Melbourne team that was going up against the top dogs in the Tigers and I guess now United.

“The Tigers were dominant and the other teams in town were the underdogs.”

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Bruce also felt burnt by the Tigers as a junior coming through the ranks.

Whether he was playing for Horsham or Eltham, his teams were always up against it playing against the talent-loaded Tigers.

Bruce’s dislike for the Melbourne Tigers continued when the franchise became United in 2014.

The club’s new navy blue colours reminded him of the beatings his Victorian Country teams received from the powerful Victorian Metro sides.

“So, every time I’d see United play, I’d just visualise them as being Vic Metro,” he said.

“Whether it was United or the Tigers, they were the best junior program, so you just wanted to take it to them and beat them.

“I never really made a Tigers team or tried out. The Tigers were just a team that poached players from around the metropolitan areas to build a team, which I guess rubbed other junior clubs the wrong way.”

Today, Bruce feels it’s fitting that he is a part of the NBL’s most genuine and intense rivalry between the Kings and United.

He has vivid memories of playing for other teams, including Adelaide, Cairns and Brisbane, and seeing the ‘Go hard or go to Sydney’ sign that sat inside John Cain Arena.

Bruce wasn’t donning Kings colours at the time, but the provocative sign always inflamed outrage within him.

“I remember seeing that sign when I was playing other teams and thinking, ‘That is kind of weird’,” he said.

“It definitely opened my eyes to what the Sydney versus Melbourne rivalry is all about.”

It’s why Bruce loves being a King and trying to take down the all mighty Melbourne United.

Although, he admits his understanding of the Sydney versus Melbourne rivalry went to another level when he signed with the Kings in 2019.

The week he put pen to paper, star guard Casper Ware left United after winning a championship to join Sydney.

Ware wanted more money from United, but they reportedly didn’t come to the party, opening the door for a switch to the club’s arch rivals.

“When Casper moved over to the Kings, it felt like the world had changed,” he said.

“From day one it was the biggest talk of the town that he had left United to move to the rivals.

“My first week at the Kings there was definitely a lot of talk in the media about the Melbourne and Sydney rivalry, so that was my introduction to the club.”

The Kings versus United rivalry has been littered with tension, player swaps and quality hoops for some time now.

Probably the biggest headline came via Boomers and NBA star Andrew Bogut knocking back Melbourne United in 2018 when the deal was all but done.

Bruce was playing for the Bullets at the time, but he remembers Bogut’s shock Sydney signing causing big headlines.

“That was huge – you could definitely feel that,” he said.

“It was a story that picked up a lot of media attention.”

For all the off-court banter, Bruce says the Sydney versus Melbourne rivalry is built on the court.

The Kings and United have battled it out in the NBL playoffs in two of the past three seasons, with the victory spoils shared.

Bruce has no doubts that this closeness adds to the clashes between the Kings and United.

“We’ve had big battles with United in the regular season, but I think the two recent playoff series against each other have added to the rivalry,” he said.

“Melbourne got the better of Sydney before Sydney hit back the following season.

“It is genuine. We go out there and we don’t like them, and they don’t like us, and I feel like our fan bases are the same.

“We feel it when we go down there, and I have no doubt that they feel it when they come to Qudos.

“It’s exciting for the league.”


Veteran forward David Barlow sits right in the middle of the Melbourne versus Sydney rivalry.

Barlow, born in the Melbourne suburb of Sandringham, started his career with the Kings in 2003.

He won two championships during his time in the Harbour City before returning home to the Melbourne Tigers in 2014 following European stints in Spain and Poland.

Barlow has since collected a further three championships playing for the Tigers and United.

He has a strong connection with both clubs, but concedes the Kings have changed so much since his time there that his affliction isn’t as deep.

“The organisation has changed pretty drastically, so no players, coaching staff or owners remain from that period,” he said.

“My history in the specific matchup is a unique one given I started my career with the Kings under Goorjian and now he is at Illawarra.

“I then went to the Tigers and now I’ve been playing for United for a while.

“I absolutely loved my time in Sydney. It was a brilliant time in my life, and we had success on the court.”

The United versus Kings rivalry has reached new heights in recent seasons on the back of intense finals clashes and player swaps or failed deals like Bogut, Ware and most recently veteran swingman Brad Newley leaving Sydney for Melbourne.

Throw in United handing the Kings their worst loss in club history last round – a 42-point hammering- and Sunday’s rematch at Qudos Bank Arena on Boxing Day will be must-watch television.

“All that adds to a rivalry,” Barlow said.

“Each situation is different and depending on what happened they can create certain emotions that can feed into this desire to beat one team or the other.”

Melbourne United vs Sydney Kings

All time meetings: played 35, United won 24, Kings won 11

All time played at Qudos: Played 14, Kings won 8, United won 6

Kings won the last 7 in a row at Qudos

Melbourne have won 11 of their last 12 games played against Sydney at John Cain Arena while Sydney have won their past seven in a row at Qudos Bank Arena, so it’s a real home court advantage between these teams.

The last 10 games played between these teams has been won by the team playing on their home floor.

Originally published as Sydney Kings v Melbourne United: Inside the NBL’s most genuine rivalry

Read related topics:MelbourneSydney