By Murray Silby
NT Thunder has survived a last quarter fight-back by Aspley to win their Round 16 NEAFL clash at TIO Stadium in Darwin on Saturday by 12 points, 14.13 (97) to 13.7 (85).
Playing the curtain raiser to the Melbourne versus Adelaide AFL game, the two teams put on an entertaining display for the gathering crowd, which included free-flowing run and carry type play, a quarter of tough defensive one-on-one combat, and of course, the nerve wrangling come-back from the visitors.
The visiting Hornets from Brisbane began the final term trailing by 34 points and needing six goals to get anywhere near their hosts. In the third term they’d managed to stem the flow of Thunder goals back to three goals compared to their one, instead of the six to one advantage the Territory men enjoyed in the second quarter.
It was still going to require a massive turnaround for Aspley to challenge in the fourth however, and as the siren sounded to open the last quarter, such a transformation in the match didn’t seem likely, but Oscar Baker took just 30 seconds to goal on the run and send a message that the Hornets felt differently.
Thunder’s Francis Kinthari goaled after five minutes, thanks to a sneaky handball from his skipper Shannon Rioli, but that would be the Territorians’ only for the final quarter. Aspley then kicked the next four goals – key forward Gavin Grose booting three of them despite an ankle injury. Reece Toye chimed in with the other and by the 22-minute-mark the margin had closed to 11-points.
To its credit though, the Thunder defence re-grouped and began to match the Hornets at the contest and was able to dry up the scoring of their opponents with a behind to the home side the only other score for the remainder of the quarter.
Given Aspley’s desperate efforts to steal the match in the final term, Thunder coach Andrew Hodges was relieved to secure the win. “Obviously the momentum shifted in that last quarter,” Hodges said. “They finished the game with plenty of run and our guys were pretty heavy in the legs late in the game, but they did enough. “We set it up early in the match and to get the win on our home deck was a real positive.”
The first quarter was a lively affair with 10 goals scored between the two teams. Thunder jumped out to an initial two-goal lead, thanks to majors by Richard Tambling and Darren Ewing, after four minutes, but three goals in succession to the Hornets through Oscar Baker, Matt Argus and Matt Payne, who was making his return to NEAFL football after a trip overseas, handed the visitors the lead.
Nicholas Yarran then put his crumbing abilities on display with a running goal before Aspley’s Jack Coghlan and then Payne both answered with majors. The lightning quick Kinthari got away from his opponent for a goal on the run before Grose used his height to advantage for a mark and goal from the edge of the goal square late in the quarter to hand the Hornets a 12-point lead at quarter time.
When Nicholas Jackson goaled after just 40 seconds of the second term, Aspley stretched its lead out to 18 points, but from thereafter it was one way traffic with Thunder putting on six unanswered goals for a 31-point turnaround in the quarter and a 19-point lead at half-time. Ewing added two for the term, as did the 17-year-old Beau Schwarze, the second a delightful banana kick on the run.
The Hornets were struggling to match Kinthari’s pace and he added a second for the match, another right foot snap on the run while Jack Shannahan kicked one for himself. The free-flowing football of the first half dried up in the third term with both teams tightening up their defensive efforts and ferocious tackling and multiple stoppages taking over.
It took almost 14 minutes for the first goal of the quarter to be scored when Schwarze, reinforcing the view that he’s not out of his depth at this level, found Davin Ferreira in a paddock of space, who casually ran into goal.
Edward Mallan scored Aspley’s only major of the term, while Yarran and Braedon McLean contributed Thunder’s other two.
Although slight in stature, Yarran is increasingly imposing himself on games as the season progresses and although gathering only the 13 disposals, he also kicked two goals and featured in the build up to each of Thunder’s four goals in the opening term.
Young Schwarze finished the game with 15 disposals, including 10 kicks, and displayed remarkable poise for his age while Sam Smith was a great contributor defensively across half-back, but also helped set up attacks from the back half. Abraham Ankers was also a tireless contributor at ground level in the stoppages, but for the umpteenth time in his career it was Cameron Ilett, who filled gaps across half-back or provided the vital link through the middle of the ground.
He had an equal game-high 27 possessions, sharing it with Aspley’s Ed Barlow, who was one of his side’s best.
Gavin Grose’s height worried Thunder’s defenders as he provided the Hornets with an ever-dangerous target and his four goals, including three in the final term almost snatched the match for them.
Hodges said it’s obviously early in Schwarze’s career, but he’s showing some promising signs. “He’s a clever young player who is obviously still developing,” he said. “He’s very talented but he knows he’s got plenty of work to do to keep a regular spot in the side, but today it was really promising that we pushed the ball in deep for him a couple of times and he created some really good scoring opportunities for himself and hit the scoreboard, which was great.
“I thought Sammy Smith across half-back tried all day and put his body on the line and Cameron Ilett again, especially early was fantastic. It was good to have Daniel Weetra back in the side to give us that stability back there. He’ll be better for the run as well. “Weetra’s decision making is first class so we want the ball in his hands more than not in those pressure situations.”
NT Thunder 4.2, 10.5, 13.10, 14.13 (97)
Aspley 6.2, 7.4, 8.6, 13.7 (85)
NT Thunder: Darren Ewing, Francis Kinthari 3, Beau Shwarze, Nicholas Yarran 2, Richard Tambling, Jack Shannahan, Davin Ferreira, Braedon McLean.
Aspley: Gavin Grose 4, Matt Payne, Oscar Baker 2, Matt Argus, Jack Coghlan, , Nicholas Jackson, Edward Mallan, Reece Toye.
NT Thunder: Cameron Ilett, Sam Smith, Abraham Ankers, Sam Talbot, Nicholas Yarran, Richard Tambling.
Aspley: Ed Barlow, Matt Payne, Gavin Grose, James Ives, Reece Toye, Oscar Baker.