By Murray Silby
“Obviously our form hasn’t been great of late and we want to turn that around. There’s no better way than against a side that’s in form so we’re looking forward to doing that this weekend.”
Thunder coach Andrew Hodges summarises the situation his side finds itself in after 10 rounds of NEAFL competition this season.
It’s the best sides that overcome adversity to achieve good fortune or are able to change direction when the tide seems overwhelming and it’s a scenario something like that Thunder faces in the nation’s capital this weekend.
Thunder – fresh from its third loss in a row – will play Canberra – fresh from winning three successive games for the first time in its history – at UNSW Oval in Canberra on Saturday night.
The Demons are on a roll and Thunder has a hill to climb.
“There’s a good feeling among the group,” Hodges said. “A workmanlike attitude to getting in and getting the job done. We had a really good review as well and the boys are focused and ready for this weekend.”
Hodges acknowledges the Demons won’t be an easy opponent to return to form against.
“They’re very good, they’ve been in very good form, they’re a good young side and they play with a bit of excitement and energy and we’re really looking forward to getting down to Canberra and taking on a side that’s in pretty good form,” he said.
Canberra’s most recent victory was a 22-point win over Brisbane, the Demons’ third victory over an AFL club this season, having also beaten GWS and Gold Coast.
The recent run of good form means the Demons have climbed to fifth on the NEAFL ladder, but equal on points with third-paced Brisbane, while Thunder has slipped to ninth.
On-baller Alex Smout with 35 disposals and eight clearances and defender Sam Martyn with 31 disposals and eight rebound 50s were important players against Brisbane, but it’s another on-baller Mitch Maguire who is attracting plenty of nods of respect from opposition clubs.
He had 28 disposals and attracted a tag by the Lions last weekend.
Maguire is running third in the NEAFL’s MVP award, just two votes behind leader Andrew Boston from Southport.
A point of interest in the match will be whether Thunder full-forward Darren Ewing will be able to kick his 600th NEAFL career goal.
He has 595 so far and kicked five in a losing side against Aspley last round so the milestone is well within his range.
Hodges hinted lively forwards Adam Sambono, Dion Munkara and Ross Tungatalum might also return to the side this week.
Against Aspley last weekend Hodges turned to two of his newest players – Tylah Saunders and Patrick Boles – to try and inject a bit more physicality into his on-ball division.
“Both are good inside contested ball players so we’ll look for them to take on much the same roles this week and we’ll try to get some other team-mates to help them out in that area so they’ll play pretty similar roles,” Hodges said.
“It’s great to have those two guys involved with our footy club. They set the standard really high at training and on game day.”
Saunders is from South Australia and has played with Glenelg and says his Thunder experience so far has been like nothing he’s had in footy before.
“It’s such a unique situation that the footy club’s in,” he said. “You’ve got such huge distances, from the players on the Tiwis (islands) to the players down in Alice Springs.
“Obviously the travel, every second week or thereabouts to Queensland and New South Wales has its challenges, but it’s still such a tight knit group of fellas it’s brilliant and so welcoming to myself and I know Paddy Boles is the same. It’s been a really easy transition for me in terms of getting to know everyone, but it certainly is a unique experience to be at this club.
“There’s blokes who when they’ve got the footy in their hand they’re capable of doing things that most can barely dream of so it’s incredibly exciting and it’s fun to watch and be part of. To be in that when these players are doing what they do it’s really special.”
A Gunditjmara man from the border region of south-west Victoria and South Australia, Saunders is also relishing the cultural experience Thunder offers.
Thunder’s squad boasts a wide array of cultural backgrounds, especially from Aboriginal language groups in the NT, and Saunders is enjoying that side of his roles with the Thunder playing group and as a commercial coordinator for AFLNT.
“It is a big thing, especially up here with such diverse aboriginal groups,” he said. “Just my time here at work, being able to see the fantastic work our remote guys are doing with indigenous kids in remote communities, it’s really special. It’s great.”
Despite the contrasting form lines, Saunders said he believes Thunder can overcome Canberra on the Demons’ home ground.
“I felt we came along in huge steps on the weekend in terms of consistency. Trying to string together a four-quarter effort. It’s just a matter of making sure when we have those lulls in the game we bring them up a bit more,” he said.
“It’s a big challenge for us to head down to Canberra. We’re looking forward to the challenge as a group and it’s just a matter of getting those things to click and we’ll get ourselves to where we need to be.”
NEAFL Round 11: Canberra v NT Thunder – 6:30pm Saturday 16 June, UNSW Oval, Canberra