By Murray Silby
NT Thunder will be hoping to snap its losing streak at two matches when it takes on Geelong in Round 9 of the VFL W at TIO Stadium on Saturday.
Thunder won its first five games in an imposing start to the season, but has lost its last two – to the Southern Saints and Collingwood.
That record has them sitting in fourth place ahead of this weekend’s match against the Cats, who are in third spot on the ladder.
It’s a good place to be halfway through the season, but matches like this week’s against Geelong and last week’s loss to the top-placed Magpies are real tests for Thunder’s finals credentials.
“We have had a couple of tough games the last two, but we’re taking away those lessons and looking forward to the next game against the Cats, another one here at home and hopefully taking the win back,” defender and co-vice-captain Lisa Roberts said.
“They’ve been playing some great footy, but they also dropped a game on the weekend and I believe they’re sitting third on the ladder just above us so it’s going to be a really good hit out.”
That game Geelong dropped was the Cats’ first loss of the season. They went down to the Western Bulldogs by 22 points and only managed to kick the one goal through Kate Darby for the entire match and that came in the final quarter.
As Geelong’s ladder position suggests it does have some talented players on its list, including inside midfielder Renee Garing, who in just her second season of football after crossing from netball is among the leaders in the competition for handballs and tackles.
In their second VFL W season, the Cats also have players with AFLW experience. Among them are midfielders Mia-Rae Clifford (Melbourne), Richelle Cranston (Melbourne), key forward Darby (Carlton) and key defender Anna Teague (Melbourne).
With Thunder having ambitions of making TIO Stadium a fortress against visiting teams, Roberts said the players are desperate to improve on last week’s loss to Collingwood.
Roberts captains her NTFL side, Waratah, and shared the Gwynne Medal for the league’s best and fairest player this past season with Lucy Adam, who captains the Darwin Buffettes.
The pair led their respective sides into the 2018 NTFL grand final with Roberts taking home the trophy, but the rivals are now team-mates and respected leaders around the Thunder squad.
Roberts said winning the Gwynne Medal, named after Territory women’s football great Colleen Gwynne was a great honour.
“Most definitely,” Roberts said. “It was a surprise, but had such great meaning.
“Colleen Gwynne is a really good friend of mine and has been a great mentor over the years, playing footy as well, and so it was really special for me to win that award jointly with Lucy Adam.”
Roberts said she’s excited to be playing the game at a time of dramatic expansion, including the development of the Thunder women’s team, which provides a link between the local NTFL side and the AFLW.
“It’s excellent,” she said. “An excellent pathway for those girls stepping up from NTFL and then being able to share the experience with the AFLW players (on the Thunder list), which is a constant learning experience.
Although the experienced player boasts a huge amount of experience, she said the Thunder program has also taught her a lot.
“Just the professionalism around the Michael Long Learning Centre within this program,” she said.
“Working with (coach) Tim (Weatherald), who’s got a lot of experience, predominantly coaching men, but he’s been really fantastic with all the girls and then especially being able to mix in with all those AFL players who have that professional experience and guidance and just knowledge as well.
“I suppose in my football career I don’t have too much longer left so to be able to have this opportunity and experience before my football days are over and see the young girls coming through who have that pathway in front of them is really exciting and I’m just really excited about women’s footy in the NT and how it can go now.”
VFL W Round 9 – NT Thunder v Geelong, 4 pm Saturday 7 July, TIO Stadium, Darwin.