By Murray Silby
In what could be described as a topsy-turvy year for NT Thunder, the club will be looking for a solid four-quarter effort on Saturday when it travels to Brisbane to take on Aspley in NEAFL’s Round 10.
There’s been some significant turnover in personnel at the club from last season and as is always the case for Thunder, whose players line up in the local NTFL competition until just before the NEAFL season, there’s been limited preparation.
All that aside though, coach Andrew Hodges would have preferred a little more consistency in the first nine rounds so far.
With a record of three wins and five losses, and sitting in eighth position on the ladder, Thunder’s first nine weeks have read W, W, L, L, L, W, L, L.
Aspley started poorly with three straight losses in the first three rounds, but has improved to a record of four wins and four losses, including victories over Sydney and Brisbane, to sit in sixth position on the ladder with a form line of L, L, L, W, W, W, L, W.
Thunder is hoping to snap its current losing streak at two losses and will be attempting to do so where it won in Round 2.
In that match at Aspley’s Graham Road ground, Thunder won by 28 points with Adam Sambono kicking four goals and Hugo Drogemuller three.
The key creators up the field were Cameron Ilett and Abraham Ankers while in the ruck Jack Monigatti, with help from Drogemuller and Sam Smith, was successful in restricting the impact of the Hornets’ giant former Melbourne ruckman Jake Spencer.
All that and more will have to go right for Thunder if it’s to beat its great rival Aspley this weekend.
The Hornets’ celebrated on-ballers are in sparkling form with Matthew Payne earning a perfect 10 in voting for the NEAFL MVP award against Brisbane in Round 9.
Former North Melbourne captain Andrew Swallow polled five votes and the pair was among five Aspley players to earn votes against the Lions.
Payne is a two-time NEAFL MVP and those 10 votes pushed him into fourth place on the MVP leader board behind Canberra’s Mitch Maguire.
There aren’t any Thunder players in the top 10.
Payne’s performance was mighty. The 32-year-old gathered 35 disposals, six marks, five tackles, five clearances and three inside 50s against Brisbane and will surely be prominent again on the weekend.
Up forward, Aspley’s former Brisbane Lion Jono Freeman is fifth on the NEAFL leading goal-kickers’ tally with 17 goals for the season, but Thunder’s dynamic duo of Darren Ewing (22) and Adam Sambono (19) are in third and fourth place respectively.
Unusually, Ewing was held goal-less against GWS by Lachlan Keeffe last week.
It’s only the eighth time in Ewing’s 145-game NEAFL career that he hasn’t scored a major. In the other 137 matches he’s kicked 590 goals at an average of 4.3 a game.
There’s little doubt he’ll be fired up to respond this week.
It was largely the veterans who tried to carry their side over the line for Thunder against GWS.
Richard Tambling had 21 disposals, Cameron Ilett, Joe Anderson 16 and in the 44-point loss.
On-baller Jarrod Stokes says the squad is moving to refocus on the fundamentals of the game ahead of the Aspley match.
“This week we’ve talked a lot about improving on our skills and our professionalism and all the things we talked about at the start of the season,” he said. “We’re keeping positive and taking it one game at a time.”
Like all associated with the Thunder club, Stokes says there’s no question the squad has the talent and the unity and it’s a matter of time before things click more consistently on the field.
“The group that we’ve got there it’s exciting so it’s not really hard to rock up to training,” he said.
“This year it’s a new group. We all know how good we can be, but there’s some parts of our game that we need to improve on like our work rate and our fitness, but I think we’re taking steps in the right direction and I think we should be fine.”
There’s even Thunder unity in Stokes’ workplace at Bhagwan Marine.
“At the moment I’m working there with Benny Rioli, he’s been there for a few years now,” Stokes said.
“We do all kinds of jobs around the harbour. It’s a good job. It’s outdoors and it’s something new every day.
“It can go from anything like crew transfers to moving barges to fixing moorings in the (Darwin) harbour and stuff like that. There’s all different kinds of things we do.
“You see a few (crocodiles) every now and then, but we make sure to keep our distance from them,” he laughs.
Stokes is from another of the NT’s prominent footballing families. His dad Frank, grandfather Sam, uncle Steven and on his mother’s side, uncle and Nichols Medalist Barney Quall, were all prominent among the Territory’s footballing scene, and for Darwin Buffaloes in particular.
Jarrod wears number six for Thunder, the same number he wears for the Buffaloes and the number his uncle Steven wore in an NTFL premiership for the club.
“There’s a lot of uncles and grandfathers who’ve played for Buffalos in the NTFL and for the NT so there’s a lot of people who I look up to and it makes me proud to put on the NT jumper, he said.
NEAFL Round 10: Aspley v NT Thunder – Saturday 1:30pm, Graham Road, Carseldine