By Murray Silby
When NT Thunder last clashed with Canberra, in Round 6 of the NEAFL, it was the Demons who orchestrated a last gasp five-point win.
Two late last quarter goals by the visitors, one a 65-metre ball burster by Nick Collins, and another by Nicholas Pleming after 31 minutes, ensured the long journey to the Top End was a fruitful one for the capital city boys.
The fact that Thunder had had its chances, but could only put together a run of five behinds in the final term, hurt even more.
“I don’t think they had our measure,” Thunder coach Andrew Hodges said this week. “I think if you go back and look at the stats we were pretty dominant in most areas of the game, we just didn’t finish very well in front of goal
“We were a little bit inaccurate and around the ground our decision-making and skill errors cost us so we’ve worked really hard to make sure that doesn’t happen again this week.”
Speaking after his side’s Round 6 win at TIO stadium in Darwin, Canberra playing coach Kade Klemke said his side had done its homework on Thunder.
“We knew that NT don’t get the handball out a lot,” Klemke said. “They’ve got the lowest handball figures in the competition, especially because of the conditions, but they’re great when they get the footy.
“They’re great at breaking the lines and something we wanted to do was take away their space so they couldn’t run.”
Hodges says Canberra’s victory in Darwin also stung the Thunder squad because of its pride in maintaining TIO Stadium as a fortress.
Visiting clubs know the NT side, with its warmer climate, has a daunting home ground advantage, but this week it’ll be Thunder who has to overcome Canberra’s own home advantage – in icy winter conditions.
A minimum of two degrees and a maximum of 14 are forecast for Canberra on Saturday, but Hodges says he hasn’t turned up the air conditioning in the Michael Long Learning and Leadership Centre to give his players a blast of winter air in preparation for the match.
“(laughing) No. We don’t do anything to prepare for it (the cold). Obviously teams have got to come to the Territory and it gives us an advantage but I think you look at the record this year and it hasn’t really given us a positive record at home, but we’re really looking forward to going to Canberra and playing in those conditions and it’s a midday game and we’re really excited about the challenge,” he said.
Canberra’s record at UNSW Canberra Oval this season is two wins and two losses alongside its two wins and three losses on the road and place them seventh on the NEAFL ladder behind Thunder’s fourth place. However with the close nature of the competition means the Demons have won only one less match than the NT side.
Both sides had the bye last weekend, although Canberra had four players selected for NEAFL representative duties – defender Sam Martyn and midfiedlers Jordan Harper, Mitch Maguire and Andrew Swan – while Thunder’s inside midfielder Abe Ankers was its sole representative.
Harper was vice-captain for the 17-point victory over Tasmania and named among NEAFL’s best players with 33 disposals, seven clearances and a goal.
Harper is sixth on the NEAFL MVP award and clearly one of the Demons’ keys, while Swan, at 192 centimetres and 100 kilograms, is an imposing on-baller who has the skills to match.
Thunder’s last game in Round 10 was a 68-point loss to equal ladder leaders Sydney University, but NT was missing some genuine stars in that match.
“Cameron Ilett, Richard Tambling, Shannon Rioli and Matt Rosier are all up for selection this week so we’ll know later in the week what the exact make up of our side is, but we’ve got some pretty handy ins this week,” Hodges said.
Rioli is Thunder’s captain, Cameron Ilett is a five-time club champion and Richard Tambling formerly played for Richmond and Adelaide in the AFL and is a one-time club champion. On baller Matt Rosier is also available after injury.
Hodges says the bye has helped freshen up his squad as the season moves into its second half. He says it’s enabled his players, who’ve had an NTFL season over summer during NEAFL’s off-season, to take some time away from the club.
“The bye was a really good opportunity for us to give the players a bit of a break, not only physically, but mentally, which we’ve talked about quite a bit,” he said.
“The guys have had five days away from the club and really revitalized and are ready to go for the second half of the season.
“They’re really looking forward to taking Canberra on this week and knowing we’ve got a few games away in the last nine games,” Hodges said.
Saturday 17 June
NEAFL Round 12: Canberra Demons vs NT Thunder – Saturday 12pm, UNSW Canberra Oval, Canberra