By Murray Silby
An ability to extend its lead at every change has ensured Hawthorn defeated NT Thunder by 25 points in their VFL W Round 15 clash at TIO Stadium in Darwin on Saturday, 8.5 (53) to 4.4 (28).
It was a costly loss for Thunder, which after last week’s win over Collingwood had been hoping to finish in the top two on the ladder.
That would have guaranteed it a double chance in the finals, but given it has a bye in next week’s final round, the loss to the Hawks means it’s likely blown the opportunity – only if Geelong lose on Sunday but beat the Hawks next week can Thunder hold on.
Thunder will play in the finals though, and that’s still a remarkable achievement for the club with the women’s team only formed a few weeks before the VFL W season got underway.
“Obviously disappointing to lose our last game up here this season, a bit of a kink in the way, but we won’t stress about it,” Thunder coach Tim Weatherald said.
“Our concentration now is on that first final down in Melbourne in a few weeks’ time.”
“The way it’s worked out, unfortunately, we won’t likely finish second because Geelong should win tomorrow and then Hawthorn play Geelong next week, and one of those sides will win (unless it’s a draw) and jump above us.
“It’s a pretty costly loss. We’ll have to play in an elimination final now. We knew that was riding on the game and we have the bye in the last round, so we have to wait a few weeks now and play the loser of Geelong and Hawthorn assuming Geelong win this weekend.
“We proved last weekend we could beat Collingwood, who is the best. We’ve done the work and deserve our spot in the finals. We’ve finished third after 14 games,” Weatherald said.
The run of play against Hawthorn swung both ways in the first quarter.
Firstly, it was the Hawks to dominate possession, with the first five minutes of play almost completely played in the visitors’ forward 50.
It wasn’t entirely productive though with Hawthorn only managing a couple of behinds.
Play then swung to Thunder’s advantage, but again, the home side wasn’t able to take full advantage of the possession it had inside its forward 50, only managing a rushed behind.
It wasn’t until the 14th minute when the game’s first goal was scored, and that came off the boot of Hawthorn’s key forward Sarah Perkins.
Well-known in Darwin through her appearances with the Adelaide Crows in the AFLW, Perkins snuck over the back of Thunder’s defence to take advantage of a defensive error and run into an open goal and hand the Hawks a six-point lead at quarter-time.
Hawthorn blew the game open in the second term, kicking three goals to one to take a 16-point lead into the long break.
That lead was built on the back of plenty of sustained pressure from the Hawks and goals to Emma Mackie, Clare O’Donnell and Phoebe McWilliams.
The Hawks’ ability to apply constant offensive pressure meant Thunder found it impossible to clear it out of its defence with any accuracy at all.
The long break did little to reduce Hawthorn’s commitment on the ball.
Although Thunder needed to steady the Hawks’ progress early while beginning to eat into their lead, instead it was Hawthorn who consolidated in the first 13 minutes of the quarter.
After finding herself out of position in a marking contest a few metres out from goal, Perkins used her strength to steal the mark and take advantage of the opportunity to kick the goal.
That extended the Hawks lead to 22 points and already Thunder looked in imminent peril, but after McWilliams had scored her second and third goals inside 13 minutes and the margin had ballooned out to 34 points, last rights seemed likely.
A goal to captain Angela Foley on 15 minutes after some great defensive work by Lateesha Jeffrey at half-back and a brilliant smother by Renee Forth deep in the forward 50 eased the pressure a little.
Then, a long-range major to Jasmyn Hewett seconds before the three-quarter-time siren had the true believers believing.
The 22-point three-quarter-time deficit was always going to be difficult to overhaul though given Hawthorn’s intense pressure in the first three terms, and so it proved.
The Hawks shut down defensively and never allowed the Thunder players room to move, let alone get a run on, with only two goals – one to either side – scored for the quarter.
It took until the 11 minute mark of the last quarter for the first of those two goals to be kicked.
That came off the boot of Mackie for her second of the game and Thunder’s was kicked by Jordann Hickey at the 15th minute mark.
Thunder had withstood Collingwood’s pressure a week ago and responded admirably, but Weatherald said Thunder hadn’t managed to do the same against the Hawks.
“Their pressure was on really early, and that brought perceived pressure, and we fumbled the ball and rushed our possessions and didn’t use the ball very well at all,” he said.
“That was what hurt us the most, our skill errors and that came out of their pressure.
“It was a really tough day, and we probably didn’t have anyone who won their position today. In saying that, it’s not like they didn’t try, they tried their hearts out.”
NT Thunder: 0.2, 1.4, 3.4, 4.4 (28)
Hawthorn: 1.2, 4.2, 7.2, 8.5 (53)
GOALS: NT Thunder – Angela Foley, Jasmyn Hewett, Jordann Hickey, Sue Nalder.
Hawthorn – Phoebe McWilliams 3, Emma Makie, Sarah Perkins 2, Clare O’Donnell.
BEST: NT Thunder – Angela Foley, Ebony Marinoff, Tayla Thorn, Emma Swanson, Katie Streader, Kristy Irvine.
Hawthorn – Rebecca Beeson, Phoebe McWilliams, Chantella Perera, Louise Wotton, Sarah Perkins, Rosie Dillon.