By Murray Silby
NT Thunder travels to the northern Melbourne suburb of Craigieburn this weekend to try and ram home its undefeated start to the season against Carlton in Round 6 of the VFL W.
Thunder has notched up four wins from its four games and sits third on the VFL W ladder behind Geelong and Collingwood, who both have four wins and a draw.
Meanwhile, the Carlton women’s team, from one of the most celebrated clubs in Australian football, is in seventh place with two wins and three losses after its five games.
The Blues lost to Darebin in their last start by 49 points, while Thunder enjoyed a 36-point victory over the Western Bulldogs the same weekend.
Carlton’s other losses have been to Geelong – by just seven points – and to Hawthorn.
The Blues’ victories were over the Southern Saints and the Western Bulldogs in the first two rounds of the season.
That promising start, in which they were sitting on top of the ladder after the first two games, has steadily declined with three straight losses.
There’s no shortage of athletic and natural football talent among the Blues’ squad though.
Perhaps none represent that more than star AFLW forward Darcy Vescio.
In a stellar inaugural AFLFW season in 2017, Vescio was Carlton’s and the AFLW’s leading goal-kicker, won all-Australian honours and took out the mark-of-the-year competition.
The Blues also have plenty of firepower in the ruck with their 2017 AFLW rising star nominee Breann Moody.
Standing 180-centimetres tall, Moody’s star kept rising in the 2018 AFLW season with her being a joint winner of the Blues’ best and fairest. Her taller – by four centimetres – identical twin, Celine, also plays for Carlton.
Then there are the athletic code-jumpers in Australian sevens rugby representatives and Rio Olympics gold medal squad members Chloe Dalton and Brooke Walker.
While another Blue, Kerryn Harrington, represented Australia at the junior world basketball championships and has played in the WNBL.
She successfully made the transition to Carlton’s AFLW side in 2017, finishing fourth in the Blues best and fairest in her debut season.
One of the Territory talents running out for the Thunder this season also has AFLW experience, but with the Adelaide Crows and with a little more pain to go with it.
A winner of the NTFL women’s rising star award in 2015, Sophie Armitstead was originally drafted by the Crows’ seventh selection and pick 55 overall in the 2016 AFL women’s draft.
While making her debut against the Western Bulldogs in Round 2 of that season however, Armitstead tore the meniscus in her left knee. It was a season-ending injury.
She came back in the 2018 season to play four games, but hasn’t been re-signed by the Crows for 2019.
“I wasn’t resigned at the end of this season,” she said, “but hopefully with this comp (the VFL W) we’ll get a lot of footy and see what happens in the draft, so fingers crossed and I’ve got to play good footy now and the rest will happen.”
Despite facing another major challenge to her dream of playing AFLW, Armitstead said the experience so far has been worthwhile.
“It was a great experience and unless you’ve been in there you can’t know what it’s like and it’s good we get the opportunity nowadays to train at that high level and play at the high level as well,” she explained.
“Obviously we’re a part of history so that will be something we’ll look back on in years to come. We’ll be like, ‘Yeah, we were the first to do that’.
“I don’t think people really get it now, but in the future looking back and say we were a part of the first ever women’s AFL, that’s something really exciting I suppose.”
Armitstead’s focus though is on the here and now and that’s ensuring the part she plays in the tightly-knit Thunder squad continues to build on the Territory team’s growing number of wins.
“We have a lot of faith in our team so whoever plays each week we have faith they’re going to get the job done,” she said.
“It’s a great bunch of girls and everyone just seems to click. It doesn’t matter who’s playing each week, everyone just seems to get along, which is one thing that I do like.”
An in and under type midfielder with clean hands for Wanderers in the NTFL women’s competition, Armitstead has been asked to take on some different roles by Thunder coach Tim Weatherald.
“I’ve only played the two games. The first week I was up forward and then the second game I played down back so they’re both two new positions that I haven’t really played,” she said.
With her record of overcoming adversity it’s not hard to imagine Armitstead succeeding in any position she’s asked to play and Thunder keeping its unbeaten record in tact against the Blues on Saturday.
VFL W Round 6 – Carlton v NT Thunder, 12pm Saturday 16 June, Rams Arena, Craigieburn.