The NT Thunder women will be looking to continue the fine form that brought them a first start victory in Round 1 of the VFL W competition two weeks ago when they play Essendon at TIO stadium this Saturday.
Thunder’s emphatic 54-point win in Round 1, the club’s first ever game in the competition, was over league powerhouse Darebin, the winner of the last two VFL W premierships.
Led superbly by Marijana Rajcic with 3 goals, Emma Swanson and Chelsea Randall with two goals and captain Angela Foley with one, Thunder shocked the reigning champs with its attack on the ball.
Hard running midfielder Sam Barnett played in the historic victory and said the players have been on a high ever since.
“After the game, coming back to Darwin, it was a great feeling around the club and a great feeling amongst the girls, particularly the ones that went away,” she said. “Obviously having the bye last weekend, we couldn’t really follow on with some momentum, but the feeling with a home game this week is still really good. The girls are all really pumped up. We’re looking forward to it.”
Because Thunder is new to the competition, each week’s opponent comes with a degree of mystery about them and this weekend’s opponent, Essendon’s VFL W side, is no exception.
There could be a couple of familiar names in the squad though. Danielle Ponter, daughter of Susie Long and St Mary’s NTFL star Shane Ponter, and Stephanie Hird, the daughter of former Bomber, Brownlow medalist and former coach of the club, James.
Barnett said the Thunder players are not worried about any gaps that might exist in their knowledge about their opponents though.
“There were a lot of unknowns for us last week and we didn’t focus too much on what we were up against as we just wanted to play our own game and play to our strengths and that’s what we channeled through the game and controlled what we could control,” she said.
“I’m very excited about it (the Essendon match) being in Darwin this week and being able to have friends come and watch and see what it’s all about.
“I’m not too sure what to expect from the opposition. I think there are a couple of Darwin girls in the squad who used to live around here, but I don’t really know what to expect from them.
“I think we’re just going to try and do what we did in the first round and channel what we know we can control and what we’re good at and focus on that,” Barnett explained.
The Pints star and inaugural winner of the Gwynne Medal in the 2016/17 season for the NTFL’s best and fairest player said she’s loving being in the Thunder program.
“I’ve been playing in the NTFL for the past four seasons,” she said. “I was training with the girls in the first year hoping to get drafted, missed out. I’ve had a few injuries, a broken hand, things like that along the way, but I’ve come back and got a real love for my footy again and being a part of this Thunder squad, it’s been amazing. It’s been awesome.”
Barnett said the professionalism of the Thunder program is helping players to continually improve. She said it also helps fill a gap between local football and the AFLW level. “Particularly for girls up here who think the next step is AFLW and it seems like such a long shot,” she said.
“It’s (the Thunder program) an amazing stepping stone. Just the quality of training we’ve had with having this squad in Darwin has been excellent.
“I can’t speak enough of how well the program’s going.”
Five-time club champion for the Thunder men’s team Cameron Ilett has also welcomed the creation and entry of the Thunder women’s team.
“It’s been fantastic to be honest, the whole football club and down at the Michael Long centre it’s abuzz at the moment with all the junior programs that are running and now with both the women’s and the men’s,” he said.
“It’s been great and they bring a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of atmosphere to the footy club and I just think it’s fantastic there’s a pathway now for Territory girls and Territory boys to progress through the ranks and hopefully some of them onto the next level as well.”
Essendon suffered a big loss to Hawthorn in the opening round and an eight-point loss to Melbourne University in the second.
So the match pits a team desperate to join the winners list and another determined to impress in front of a home crowd by proving the victory over the defending premiers was no fluke.
You’d be mad to miss it.
VFLW Round 3: NT Thunder v Essendon – Saturday, May 19, 4 pm, TIO Stadium, Darwin