by Murray Silby
TIO Traeger Park in Alice Springs must be one of the prettiest major football grounds in the country.
Framed by the famous MacDonnell Ranges, the ground has long been the backdrop to some of the finest snapshots in Territory footy. And now there’s a growing contingent of Central Australians making its presence felt in the NT Thunder team.
For years it was Matt Rosier, and more recently Abraham Ankers, who flew the Alice Springs flag for Thunder, but this season has seen co-captain Ankers joined on a regular basis by three more.
Ethan Liddle and Nigel Lockyer have made their debuts this season for two and three games respectively, while Dylan Barry has added seven matches to his single game back in 2016. All have shown signs of having the potential to become important players for Thunder in years to come.
Liddle plays for Pioneers in the CAFL and Lockyer and Barry for Rovers while Ankers lines up for Federal in the same competition. They know Traeger Park better than most and are planning to put on a show this weekend when Aspley run out on the ground for their Round 12 match.
Despite the obvious rivalries between the CAFL clubs, the Alice Springs crew has united to proudly represent the Centre at the NEAFL level and Lockyer would like to be joined by more.
“That’s our goal down here in Alice, to get as many Alice players in this league as possible, the more the better and Abe is leading from the front, which is great,” he said. “Dylan is another good role model and now you’ve got Ethan and myself, which is great.
“There’s a lot of talent here in Alice. It’s all about them committing and putting in the hard work, anything’s possible now, they just have to put in the hard work.”
Lockyer says playing for Thunder is a big commitment to take on, with all but the Alice Springs round effectively being an away game given the Centralian crew still has to get on a plane for Thunder’s home matches in Darwin.
But he says it’s been worth it and he’s loving his time in the Thunder colours.
“It is pretty hard sometimes,” he explained. “It has its ups and downs, but I like it more than anything because travelling and stuff is good and the preparation with the team is all good as well and the blokes are good team-mates and I like to get around them.”
No doubt his team-mates are pretty happy to get around Lockyer too, especially if he keeps performing the way he did in a losing side in his last start against Sydney University in Round 10.
The defender was given a lock-down role on the Students’ dangerous forward Tristan Davies, who booted seven majors when the two sides clashed in Round 2, but on Lockyer he could only manage one.
“The preparation going into it was all good, the backline coach Ryan Ayres prepared me well. I played pretty well,” Lockyer said in unassuming style. This week’s match against Aspley will bring new challenges for the key defender and his Central Australian counterparts to overcome.
Among them will be the Hornets’ three-time NEAFL MVP Award winner, Matthew Payne, who has lifted his form, entering the top 10 on the leaderboard after earning nine votes in Aspley’s 36-point win over Redland in Round 10.
With Brisbane, Southport, Sydney, and GWS apparently secure in the top six, the Hornets are among the rest fighting it out for the remaining two spots and so will travel to Alice Springs with plenty of motivation.
For Thunder, with just the one win from nine games, there’s also plenty to play for and the Alice Springs crew will have plenty of support driving them on.
“All of my friends are going to be there, which is good,” Lockyer said. “Hopefully we get a bit of crowd there for all of us Alice boys and for the whole NT Thunder team in general, which would be good.
“Hopefully being in Alice Springs we can put four quarters together and follow through with the win. That’d be great.”
NEAFL Round 12: NT Thunder vs Aspley – 6:00pm ACST Saturday 22 June, TIO Traeger Park, Alice Springs