By Murray Silby
NT Thunder travels to Gold Coast for Round 8 of the NEAFL this weekend where they will take on a side that is down on confidence, wins and sitting last on the ladder.
Southport Sharks have just one win to their name and are fronting up after an 87-point loss to ladder leaders Sydney University last weekend.
In contrast, Thunder players will be walking tall after a confidence boosting 30-point win over Gold Coast Suns in Round 7.
Thunder’s victory has allowed them to square up their win-loss ratio to 3-3 and are just inside the top six currently sitting on fifth position.
Beware an angry shark though as Southport has plenty of high profile players capable of causing Thunder concern. They include Former Gold Coast Suns AFL-listed players Danny Stanley, Matt Fowler and Seb Tabe, former Collingwood and Fremantle key position player Jack Anthony and former Fremantle rookie, Hamish Shepheard. The Sharks are also coached by former Gold Coast Sun Nathan Bock.
Another challenge for Thunder will be provided by Southport in the air with 12 players on their list 190 centimetres in height or taller. At ground level also with midfielders like Jordan Keras, being a clearance specialist who is also among the league’s leaders for contested possessions and disposals.
For all Southport has going for them, the club has struggled this NEAFL season to put it all together in games and before last week’s match was ranked last for average goals per game (8.4), inside 50s (5.2), and accuracy per game (49.45).
Despite those statistics, Thunder coach Andrew Hodges says he’s wary of the challenge facing his side.
“Southport are a very good side,” he said. “ We always have very good matches against them and any away game is always a very big challenge no matter who you play. There are no easy games in this competition.
“So we’re definitely going to have to be on our game against Southport down there.”
Brows were beginning to furrow amongst the Thunder squad after successive home losses to the Brisbane Lions, the Sydney Swans and Canberra, but Hodges said his side had its opportunities to win each of those games and in the win over Gold Coast it clicked.
“It was great to get the win and it was just reward for what we’d been doing over the last six or seven weeks, it finally came together,” he said.
“We executed a lot better than what we had been. Our intensity and commitment on the football was at the level it needs to be. The level of pressure we applied to the opposition was what we’re after and we’re just looking to try and do that consistently week-in-week-out. If we do that we know we’re going to be competitive and give ourselves a chance to win a game of footy.”
One of the big positives to come out of the Suns game was the form of onballer Abraham Ankers, who polled his first MVP votes of the season.
The Alice Springs-based player’s likely battle with Keras could be a feature of Saturday’s match.
“We had some really good contributors right across the board, it was a really good team effort,” Hodges said.
“Our younger players really stood up. Abe Ankers through the midfield had 33 touches and was very efficient. He had nine clearances in the game, which was fantastic. Neil Vea Vea was great, while Ben Rioli and Nicholas Yarran probably had their best games for the footy Club, which was really pleasing.”
Another exciting youngster in Thunder colours, Adam Sambono, continues to impress and he climbed into the equal lead of the goal-kicking table alongside team-mate Darren Ewing after the Gold Coast match.
They’ve both kicked 21 goals and are providing headaches for opposition teams with their complementary range of skills.
Sambono is also in second place in the NEAFL MVP award behind Aspley’s Matt Payne.
There are injury concerns for Thunder however, including Michael Coombes, whose physical presence against the Suns, gave his side a real boost, who is in doubt with concussion. Johnathon Peris has a hamstring complaint. Both will be tested before the weekend.
With or without the pair though, if the Thunder can take last week’s form with it to Southport then it should return with a victory.
“We wanted to return to that Territory style of footy. We’d been trying to play that style all season and just our skill execution and our decision making let us down in that area, but on the weekend that was a lot better,” Hodges said.
“The message hasn’t changed since Round 1, we just executed a lot better. Our pressure through the midfield was a lot better than it had been, which in turn created opportunities for our defence to then intercept mark and attack. So we’ll look to do that week-in-week-out and be more consistent with that.”
Saturday 20 May
NEAFL Round 8: Southport vs NT Thunder – 12.00 pm Fankhauser Reserve, Southport