By Murray Silby
Third-placed Sydney University has presented a loud case for it to still be considered among the company of the Sydney Swans and Brisbane as NEAFL premiership fancies by handing fourth-placed NT Thunder a massive loss in their Round 19 clash.
As Brisbane and the Swans were duking it out for top of the table status, with the Lions winning the match, if not top spot, the Students were bolting from the blocks at home on Henson Park against a side that was hoping to potentially close in on their rivals’ third place.
The home side snapped its visitors back into reality though within within 20 seconds of the opening siren with a goal and never looked threatened from that point on, winning by 118 points, 25.17 (167) to 7.7 (49). It’s a disappointing result for Thunder, who had high hopes for a strong performance against the University side after an impressive performance against Southport last week.
All University’s losses have come at the hands of AFL clubs Sydney and Brisbane and the Students had looked like falling behind the big two, but this win suggests they’re still worthy of consideration as a flag contender. From Thunder’s point-of-view, it was another tough day at the office, entering a match after having made more changes than they’d planned to make, including Davin Ferreira, Hugo Drogemuller and Jack Shannahan withdrawing just before the game. Those changes followed four that were made earlier in the week.
A similar number of forced changes were made ahead of the Sydney Swans match in Round 17 and Thunder coach Andrew Hodges says it’s frustrating to have to make so many before taking on the league’s top sides. “We haven’t had our best 23 when we’ve played these top sides yet so yes, very frustrating,” Hodges said. “but it’s out of our control I guess and all we can do this week is recover really well and review.
“They’re a really good side, no doubt about that. I’m really looking forward to when we can take on some of these top sides with our best 23.
“We’ve just got to get ourselves right for in a fortnight when we take on Aspley and as I said we’re going to play finals so we’ve got to prepare ourselves for that.
“We’ve got a bye this week. We’ve got some sore bodies and some guys who’ve had a virus that’s knocked them over so the bye’s come at a really good time and the last round we take on Aspley away and we’ll play finals – providing we do the right things over the next couple of weeks,” he said. Hodges praised the University side though and didn’t allow his team off the hook for the loss.
“Sydney was pretty good today and we were at our worst,” he said. “Obviously some late changes we had to make unsettled us and we didn’t react well to it, but their (Sydney University) ball work and pressure was amazing today.”
Among the best practitioners of that pressure and ball work for the Students was the former Collingwood and Western Bulldogs backman Tom Young, who has become one of the NEAFL’s elite on-ballers. His 32 disposals included 20 kicks and 12 handballs and he laid four tackles, but those statistics probably don’t indicate quite how many scoring attacks he was involved in for his side. Damian Bonney was another key in the Student’s success. He kicked three goals, but was also amongst plenty attacking moves.
With 19 kicks, 22 handballs and five tackles, Zac O’Brien gathered the highest number of disposals for the match and could have been a greater contributor on the scoreboard if his kicking boot had returned better than the 1.3 it did.
Thunder’s high achieving contributors were a little more sparse, but you’d expect club champion Cameron Ilett to be among them and he was. Ilett’s 25 disposals was the highest recorded by a Thunder player with determined on-baller Matt Rosier’s 20 the second highest.
They, along with Abraham Ankers, continually threw themselves in at the stoppages despite fighting a losing battle.
Veteran on-baller Richard Tambling was another who tried to turn the tide, but struggled against the waves of yellow and blue that continually flowed towards the University goals. One of the late inclusions to the side, Josh Cheek, was Thunder’s surprise leading goal-kicker for the match with three, making the most of very limited opportunities in the forward line.
Sydney University 6.3, 12.12, 20.14, 25.17 (167)
NT Thunder 1.1, 2.1, 3.4, 7.7 (49)
Sydney University: Aaron Day 4, Damian Bonney, Matthew Wilson 3, Michael Manteit, Alistair Gillespie, James Loneragan 2, Tom Young, James Brain, Sam Tagliabue, Xavier Richards, Jonathan Williams, Austin Lucy, Jack Hiscox, Zac O’Brie, Jacob Derickx.
NT Thunder: Josh Cheek 3, Ryan Smith 2, Darren Ewing, Daniel Russell.
Sydney University: Damian Bonney, Tom Young, Zac O’Brien, Sam Tagliabue, Aaron Day, Xavier Richards.
NT Thunder: Abraham Ankers, Richard Tambling, Cameron Ilett, Matt Rosier, Sam Talbot, Josh Cheek.