By Murray Silby
After two successive losses, NT Thunder has returned to its sparkling best in Round 7 of the NEAFL with a 30-point victory over the Gold Coast Suns at TIO Stadium in Darwin on Saturday night. The Thunder ran away from the Suns in the final term to win 13.12 (90) to 9.6 (60).
All the things Thunder had done wrong the week before against Canberra they did right in the first quarter against Gold Coast, jumping out to a 24-point lead by quarter time. Defensive pressure led to turnovers in the backline and clean, quick disposal linking up through the middle of the ground led to end-to-end goals. It was football as Territory sides have become known for.
The hungrier, more decisive and more physical Thunder promised by coach Andrew Hodges during the week had certainly arrived. With the returning Michael Coombes barreling over opposition players and Suns players knocking each other out chasing Territory jumpers it felt as though the Thunder had arrived for a stormy wet rather than the early dry season.
Thunder’s kicking was also transformed from the nervous and highly inaccurate effort of a week before to look sharp and confident. It was helped largely by three first-term goals to Adam Sambono, the second from the goal square after a masterful tap from Darren Ewing. Ewing scored himself after a “coast to coast” effort when a turnover in the Thunder backline led to an exciting run by Ben Rioli through the centre of the ground and delivery to Sambono, who passed off to Ewing for the goal from a set shot. That play typified the exciting run and carry style that had returned to Thunder’s game.
It took the Suns 12 minutes to score their first and only goal of the term, and that was to 203 centimetre rookie-listed Cameron Loersch. A Giant of a man, Loersch also scored in the second term, one of three Suns goals. William Brodie benefitted from some Thunder lairizing in the backline while Emmanuel Baru snapped a major in the last minute of the quarter.
Gold Coast benefitted in the second quarter by locking the game down and turning it into more of an arm wrestle than the Saturday Night Fever Disco that Thunder preferred. If it hadn’t been for some inaccurate kicking the Suns could have closed the gap to less than the 14 points it was at half time.
Instead, Sambono popped up for his fourth goal and Nicholas Yarran got reward for running effort with another.
Sambono took less than a minute of the third quarter to score his fifth goal, earning his opportunity after his defensive tackle on the 50 minute arc brought him the free kick. That effort was followed by three successive Gold Coast goals however before a Daniel Weetra goal from the 50 metre mark gave Thunder some breathing space and a perfect crumbing goal by Nicholas Yarran after 23 minutes extended the margin to 17 points.
Kai Sheers’ second goal for the quarter brought the margin back to 13 points though and the Suns in touch at three quarter time. When former Richmond and Adelaide player Richard Tambling kicked the first goal of the final term at the six minute mark, Thunder’s margin grew to 19 points. Sheers third goal for the Suns after 14 minutes gave the visitors hope, but two late goals to Darren Ewing eventually pushed the final margin out to a comfortable 30 points. Ben Rioli was the source of countless transformations of defence into attack, while Neil Vea Vea’s efforts around the ground, particularly in defence against a trio of tall timber, were inspirational.
Gold Coast rookie Darcy Macpherson was his side’s best picking up a bucket full of possessions around the ground.
Thunder rover Abe Ankers, who was industrious at the bottom of packs all over the ground, said after two disappointing weeks it had been a focus of his side to be first to the ball right from the start of the game. “It’s always a bonus to get the wins against an AFL side,” he said. “They always come out very fit, they’re very young and they move the ball pretty well so we wanted to come out and make sure we had a physical presence at stoppages and we thought we did for about two-and-a-half to three quarters, but we just want to get the physicality right for about four quarters for the next few weeks and make sure we can continue that.”
Ankers said it was also pleasing to see the results of Thunder’s hard work be reflected with a more accurate performance in front of goals. “The last few weeks we haven’t hit the scoreboard like we normally would, but tonight I felt we started to find some rhythm like we do and hopefully we can continue to hit the scoreboard in the ways that we do,” he said. “I think that’s the great and unique thing about NT Thunder, that we can hit the scoreboard from virtually nothing and we can create turnovers from our pressure and we can hit the scoreboard from that. “It was looking a bit ominous during the third quarter, a bit of déjà vu from the last couple of weeks, but it was good how we regained control of the game. We had enough cool heads out there to steer the ship again and get it going back our way again, which was really pleasing.”
Gold Coast coach Stephen Daniels said losing Nicholas Kempe with eight stitches to his head and concussion and Harry Simington with a hip flexer in the first half and Mitchell Hallahan late in the game had made it difficult to stay with Thunder. “We’re disappointed with the result,” he said. “I just told the boys then that I’m probably disappointed that a few things didn’t fall our way. “We got back into the game. Structurally we changed a few things around, putting plus one back and then we put a couple more back to hold us, but losing two blokes at half time, our rotations really hurt us in that third and fourth quarters. We couldn’t keep running with NT. “We tried to hang on for as long as we could, but in the end we were just beaten by a better side.”
Daniels said his side had lost more players than usual to Gold Coast’s AFL squad due to it playing Port Adelaide in China this weekend, the first regular season AFL match outside Australia or New Zealand. “As coaches we’re pretty happy with the performance. We had a lot of academy boys in the side today,” he said. “We had 13 in all up so we’re excited by what they showed. “We’ve got a few injuries at the moment and of course we had to take an extra three or four over to China in case there’s any sickness.”
He also praised Thunder for its win and the way it plays the hot, moist conditions at home. “We’ve never won up here so we certainly spoke about that. What impresses me about NT up here is the way they play the conditions. They just win,” he said. “They play the conditions really well. We call it, when we’re coming here, wet weather footy so to speak. The way they handle the footy and you speak to our boys and it’s slippery and it’s hot and we paid attention to that. “We looked at the number of handballs, the kicking, but in the end we still can’t beat them, they’re still just too good,” Daniels said.
NT Thunder 5.2, 7.2, 10.7, 13.12 (90)
Gold Coast Suns 1.2, 4.6, 8.6, 9.6 (60)
NT Thunder: Adam Sambono 5, Darren Ewing 3, Nicholas Yarran 2, Shannon Rioli, Daniel Weetra, Cameron Ilett.
Gold Coast: Kai Sheers 3, Cameron Loersch 2, William Brodie, Emmanuel Baru, Sam Davidson, Daniel Currie.
NT Thunder: Neil Vea Vea, Ben Rioli, Cameron Ilett, Adam Sambono, Samuel Smith, Abe Ankers.
Gold Coast: Darcy Macpherson, Ryan Davis, Cameron Loersch, Kai Sheers, Tom Nicholls, Max Spencer.