By Murray Silby
It was back on Saturday May 5 that NT Thunder announced its arrival in the VFL W with a 54-point victory over what has been an almost unbeatable champion in women’s football for a dozen years – Darebin.
A powerhouse of women’s football in Victoria, Darebin has won 10 of the 12 premierships contested since 2006 in the VFL W (established in 2016) and before it, the VWFL.
It was a dream debut for Thunder and on the Falcon’s home ground too. The unknown quantity that was NT Thunder, made up of a collection of talent gathered from the far reaches of the Northern Territory and a few from Adelaide, had revealed itself to be pretty formidable.
Thunder has followed up that win with another five and two losses to be third on the ladder whilst Darebin has five wins and three losses to its name and sits fifth.
Thunder captain Angela Foley was one of her team’s better players in that famous victory with 24 kicks, six handballs, five tackles and one goal. Speaking ahead of this weekend’s Round 10 rematch at Preston City Oval in Melbourne, she said the Territory team is expecting a tougher contest this time around.
“They’re the reigning premiers and they’ve still got the coach they’ve had for a few years and they have some girls who’ve played with them for years and years and I expect they may inject some AFLW players into their team that we didn’t play against in Round 1, but you can’t think about last time and they’re going to be out to get us so I expect it to be a pretty hard contest down there,” Foley said.
“So we’ll go down there and see what they’ve got.” Foley said the Darebin win had given the fledgling Thunder squad a great start to the season and set it on a winning course before experiencing the setbacks of two losses.
“We went into the season with a lot of unknowns about our opponents and how we would go and we got off to a flying start and that was good for the first five rounds, but then we were challenged against St Kilda (Southern Saints),” she said.
“Then we went back-to-back and lost against Collingwood and so we really wanted to lift on the weekend against Geelong and get back to the way we’d been playing in those first five rounds and we did that and came away with the win so we were pretty happy on the weekend.”
The huge 65-point victory over Geelong (fourth on the ladder) last weekend was built on the foundation of frenetic pressure by Thunder whenever the Cats had possession of the ball, which repeatedly led to turnovers and scoring opportunities, which were mostly taken.
“Our tackling has been one of our strengths this season and it probably did drop off the past couple of weeks for whatever reason,” Foley said, “but when a side’s got the ball and you’re onto them they can’t do much with it so that was a good highlight for us on the weekend.”
Foley said for a side that was put together from across a huge region a few weeks before the start of the VFL W season and which has more than one training squad, the group of players is remarkably united.
Apart from the experienced AFLW players on the list, some of those who’ve run out in the NT colours are scaling new heights by playing in the VFL W and Foley’s pleased the likes of Gemma Cusack are getting their chance through the Thunder program.
“She’s an example of many,” Foley said. “She’s earnt her stripes. She’s given us a really good target up forward and she uses the ball really well.
“Another one, who travels eight hours on a bus from Timber Creek just to get to training and the game is Sharona Bishop.
“Sharona loves the game. She gets on that bus and travels eight hours just to do it. She played her first game last week so it’s giving those girls an opportunity. It’s definitely bringing the Territory girls together and giving them those opportunities for sure.”
VFL W Round 10 – Darebin v NT Thunder, Saturday 14th of July, 12 pm, Preston City Oval, Preston.