by Murray Silby
NT Thunder has won a remarkable Round 18 NEAFL clash with Southport in Darwin on Saturday, defeating the Sharks by 47 points, despite being outscored by 11 goals to three in the second half.
It was a desperately welcome return to form for Thunder given its 146-point loss to Sydney last week.
Thunder set up its victory over Southport at TIO Stadium with an extraordinary 17 goals-to-two first half, including 10 goals-to-one in the second quarter to give it a 96-point lead at half-time.
Southport gave the match some life in the third term though, by kicking nine goals of its own while stopping the home side’s proverbial gallop to a walk and just the single major to drag the deficit back to 51 points at three-quarter-time.
The match’s peaks and troughs smoothed out in the final term with each side scoring two goals apiece, but the first three-quarters were the sort that gives coaches grey hair and makes coaching box telephones recoil in fear.
Thunder opened the match with seven goals in the first quarter in a totally dominant display.
It took the visitors 13 minutes to make their first foray into their own 50-metre arc and it wasn’t until the 29th minute of the quarter that Wade Hancock kicked the Sharks’ one and only goal of the term.
The rockslide turned into an avalanche in the second term as Thunder’s renowned running game hit top speed.
They kicked six goals within the first 11 minutes of the quarter and before Southport’s Tom Howard managed to score his side’s first and only major of the term.
It was a minor interruption to the flow in Thunder’s game, however, with it adding another four goals for 10 in total from the quarter.
Adam Sambono leapt to life with three of them and Nicholas Yarran two of them.
Sambono would later suffer a game-ending injury after flying for a mark and joined a growing list of injured personnel in the Thunder side with Michael Coombes, Jack Shannahan, Tony Olango and Justin Beugelaar all struggling with ailments or unable to take the field in the second half.
The second quarter deluge left Southport 96 points adrift of its host at half-time, raising the question of what records might be broken in the second half.
What happened instead was a complete transformation in the match.
The Sharks players resumed the field with a completely different mindset.
It took just 40 seconds for that to materialize on the scoreboard and for small forward Rob Clements to make his presence felt.
His snap for a goal in those early seconds was followed by another three for the quarter. Wade Hancock and Tom Howard added two of their own and all of a sudden, the scoreboard aside, it seemed as though the Sharks were the dominant team in the match.
Apart from Ryan Smith’s lone Thunder goal, it was all Southport in the third quarter, pulling the Brisbane side to within 51 points at the last change, a hopeless task in most games, but in this one, seemingly achievable.
Each side kicked two goals in the final term cancelling out the chances of the fanciful comeback victory by Southport.
Both of Thunder’s majors were kicked by Darren Ewing to give him five for the match while Clements also added his fifth in the term.
Thunder coach Andrew Hodges was a relieved man after the match, pleased with the way his side had bounced back after the Sydney flogging.
“The third quarter, take that out of it and it was a pretty good effort,” he said. “We really ground out that last quarter to get that 47-point win, which was a real positive for us after the result we had last week.
“It was a game of two halves. Obviously, we played some really good footy in the first half and to Southport’s credit they changed something at half-time and they got themselves back in the game and played some really good footy in the third quarter and we just couldn’t stop that momentum.
“So full credit to them and in the last quarter it turned into a bit of an arm wrestle that enabled us to get the win,” Hodges said.
Thunder’s turn around in form was clearly aided by the addition of 415 games of experience from the previous week.
Among the inclusions were captain Shannon Rioli, his dynamic play-making brother Ben, general in defence Beugelaar, number one ruckman Ryan Smith, former AFL player Richard Tambling and centre-half forward Hugo Drogemuller, who all played their part.
The win strengthens Thunder’s hopes of retaining fourth spot on the NEAFL ladder, just one win behind their opponent next week, Sydney University.
“The first half was probably some of the best footy we’ve played, particularly that second quarter so we’ve shown that we can play some really good footy and we’re really looking forward to doing that again next week against Sydney University,” Hodges said.
“We’re fourth on the ladder and we’re potentially going to get a home final if we win a couple more games.
“A lot has been documented about our inconsistencies and we’ve got a really young side. Many of them are playing their first season at NEAFL level so when you put all that into context it’s a learning opportunity for us this season and the beauty of it is we’re going to play finals footy so the boys are really looking forward to that,” he said.
NT Thunder 7.4, 17.9, 18.12, 20.13 (133)
Southport 1.2, 2.3, 11.3, 13.8 (86)
NT Thunder: Darren Ewing 5, Adam Sambono 3, Abraham Ankers 2, Nicholas Yarran 2, Ben Rioli 2, Sam Talbot, Michael Coombes, Jack Shannahan, Ryan Smith, Cameron Ilett, Beau Schwarze.
Southport: Rob Clements 5, Wade Hancock 3, Tom Howard 3, Hamish Shepheard, Josh Baxter.
NT Thunder: Nicholas Yarran, Cameron Ilett, Abraham Ankers, Darren Ewing, Richard Tambling, Braedon McLean.
Southport: Connor West, Nick Crowley, Rob Clements, Tom Howard, Jordan Keras, Wade Hancock.