By Murray Silby
A day out by the man they call “Boof” has seen him kick his 700th goal for NT Thunder while also leading his side to a 91-point thrashing of Canberra in their Round 12 NEAFL match on Saturday, 21.16 (142) to 7.9 (51).
In the battle of the Territories, Darren Ewing’s 10-goal haul at Manuka Oval lifted his Thunder career tally to 701 goals, his teammates mobbing him after he sent the 700th, his ninth of the match, through at the 25-minute-mark of the third quarter.
“It was pretty special, the boys knew he was pretty close, but there wasn’t any talk of it pre-match or even during the game,” Thunder coach Andrew Hodges said. “It just sort of happened, but the word got around and the boys got to him and celebrated and he had a really good day out and the hard work of his teammates up the ground, he rewarded that and finished that on the scoreboard, which was great.”
The build up to the 30-year-old’s massive milestone was pure Thunder with a blistering run by Michael Coombes through the centre of the ground before handballing to 23-year-old debutant Francis Kinthari, who passed the ball on to ruckman Tony Olango.
Olango had started the whole sequence back on half-back with a handball to Coombes and after receiving it back from Kinthari sent a perfect pass around the corner from the flank into the corridor for Ewing to mark in perfect position 40 metres out directly in front.
He made no mistake and as he was engulfed by teammates riding a wave of euphoria, while Demons’ heads were bowed and beaten as they slumped to a massive 74-point deficit at three-quarter-time. Cameron Ilett putting Thunder’s icing on the cake with a goal after the siren.
Thunder had set a formidable tone for the match by dominating the first quarter, piling on five of the first six goals.
Ewing’s unlikely chase to kick the nine goals needed to bring up his 700th in Thunder colours suddenly became less unlikely as he booted four in the first term.
The Demons had no answer for Thunder’s pacey ball movement, and in contrast to the last time the two sides met, when Canberra managed a narrow five-point victory in Darwin, the Northern Territorians’s skills were a class above their hosts’s.
Kinthari, added to the team in place of Adam Sambono, who was rested for the week, didn’t take long to make himself at home and kicked his first NEAFL goal in the opening term.
Lachlan Maples and Josh Bennett were the sole goal scorers for Canberra in the term, which ended with their team trailing Thunder by 23 points.
There was some hope for the Demons after just a few minutes of the second quarter though with the first of the term being kicked by Josh Bennett, but it only seemed to shake Thunder back to life as it kicked the next four goals.
Ewing added his fifth, Kinthari his second and Nicholas Yarran and Hugo Drogemuller contributed singles of their own.
A couple of majors by Tom Faul and another by Donald Roberts slowed what appeared to be a runaway train gathering steam, but a late Ryan Smith major maintained Thunder’s momentum and ensured the margin had grown to 34 points by half-time.
Any sort of challenge from Canberra evaporated in the third quarter with Thunder holding its host to a single behind while it piled on another six goals.
Thunder captain Shannon Rioli forced the floodgates open, smothering a Canberra handball, gathering the ball and then goaling on the run.
Ewing, meanwhile, who was on a relentless march towards his milestone, kicked four of Thunder’s third quarter goals, including his ninth for the game, the all important 700th .
A number of unanswered questions hung over the final quarter as it got underway, including could the Demons fight back to add some respectability to the score or could Thunder notch up a 100-point victory? And, could Ewing finish the match with 10 goals?
The Demons had little say in such matters though as Jacob Turner was the only Canberra player to add a major for the term, while Shannon Rioli and of course Ewing kicked one each for Thunder and teammate Braedon McLean booted two.
Ewing got his 10, but Thunder fell nine points short of notching up the 100-point victory.
Unsurprisingly, Hodges said he was happy with every aspect of his side’s game.
“I think that was probably one of our best performances for the year,” he said. “A well-rounded team effort. Our team defence was really good, we were smart with the ball, our decision making was a lot better and our skill execution too, so now we’ve just got to back it up week after week.”
Hodges said Thunder had plenty of reasons to play well against Canberra.
“It was a big game for us with Matt Rosier’s 100th NEAFL game so we wanted to make an impact. We know the second half of the season sort of started today and we knew we had to make an impact early and the boys really did that,” he said.
“The second quarter probably dropped off a little bit, but we picked up again in the third and just our skills and decision making were a lot better today and our pressure was fantastic, which was good.”
Thunder certainly received a boost from the return of captain Shannon Rioli from suspension and Cameron Ilett from work commitments, but the form of his younger brigade, such as Nicholas Yarran, Michael Coombes and Francis Kinthari in his first game also pleased Hodges.
“You could also add Abe Ankers to that, who played the rep game last week,” Hodges said. “He’s had a big week with travel and he’s still had 20 plus disposals.
“I think he led us for disposals in the game. He was fantastic and all those young guys really stood up and obviously Francis, who kicked three goals in his first game, it was pretty exciting for him. A bit of a snapshot, I guess, of what Francis can do. Scary to think what he could be in a couple of weeks when he feels comfortable in the side.
“I think Nicky Yarran had seven or nine inside 50s and I reckon just about every one of those landed on Boof’s chest and Boof went back and finished it with a goal so it was great reward for all the effort he’s put in for the club over the years and great reward for the team-mates who put in the work for him up the ground.”
Despite the massive margin
Whether it be the massive margin or the emergence of young talent though, most people associated with NT Thunder are likely to remember this day as Boof’s day.
In his eighth season for the club, the four-time NEAFL leading goal-kicker is once again atop the league table this season, but despite this, has, to a degree, lacked the hype of first year forward Sambono, whose exciting emergence has captured fans’ attention across the league.
Hodges says he and Ewing’s teammates will never underestimate his contribution though.
“He’s a fantastic person to have around the Club,” Hodges said. “He’s a good team man and he’s very well respected by his teammates and they like playing footy with him and it’s just great having that focal point up there.
“He’s done a great job for our Club, but also in the NTFL. The boys are pretty happy to run out next to him side by side. You could see the celebration once he kicked that 700th goal. I think the entire team from full-back to full-forward went to him and celebrated it with him so it means a lot to the group and a massive amount to the footy club.”
Canberra Demons 2.3, 6.3, 6.4, 7.9 (51)
NT Thunder 6.2, 11.7, 17.12, 21.16 (142)
Canberra Demons: Josh Bennett 2, Tom Faul 2, Lachlan Maples, Donald Roberts, Jacob Turner.
NT Thunder: Darren Ewing 10, Francis Kinthari 3, Braedon McLean 2, Abe Ankers, Nicholas Yarran, Ryan Smith, Hugo Drogemuller, Shannon Rioli, Cameron Ilett.
Canberra Demons: Jordan Harper, Lachlan Maples, Cameron Milne, Josh Bennett, Tom Faul, Andrew Swan.
NT Thunder: Darren Ewing, Nicholas Yarran, Michael Coombes, Abraham Ankers, Shannon Rioli, Cameron Ilett.