By Murray Silby
When NT Thunder runs onto the field at TIO Stadium to take on Southport in Round 20 of the NEAFL this Saturday, it’ll be the club’s last home game of the season.
In unison with that conclusion, another season of a different type is also coming to a close.
Saturday night will be Darren “Boof” Ewing’s final home game for Thunder before retiring after the final game in Round 21.
By then, Ewing’s season will have gone for 10 years, 194 games and 780-plus goals (to and including Round 20).
He’s the club’s games record holder and the NEAFL’s leading goal-kicker with 611. To really appreciate his goal-kicking prowess, it’s worthwhile to take a look at second place.
Binoculars reveal the next best is Southport’s Josh Baxter, way back on 229. He’ll get the chance to improve his tally against Thunder on Saturday.
With 51 goals for the season so far, Ewing is also still in contention for another NEAFL goal-kicking title, trailing Redland’s Matt Hammelmann by only five goals.
“I’d like to thank everyone at the footy club, the coaches I’ve been fortunate to play under, all the boys who have run out alongside me and fed me good ball over the 10 seasons, the support staff and administrators who do the hard work behind the scenes, generous sponsors, proud fans and the many volunteers,” Ewing said during the week. “The volunteers are the lifeblood of any club, and without them, we wouldn’t be fortunate to do what we love.
“I leave knowing there are great things in the future for NT Thunder and believe the young talent will excite fans and deliver the goods for years to come.”
It didn’t take long for the tributes to flow and Thunder head coach Andrew Hodges was the first.
“Boof has been an outstanding servant for the club, his departure will be felt by all who know and love Thunder,” Hodges said.
Despite all the accolades, teammate and former Richmond and Adelaide player Richard Tambling said people don’t fully appreciate how good Ewing’s Thunder career has been.
“Boof’s been one of the most underestimated players,” Tambling said. “Even though he’s won numerous leading goalkicking gongs he’s still a little bit underestimated I think.
“It just showed on the weekend how, on any given day, if Boof has his day, he can kick a bag full.”
Tambling said Ewing makes younger and new players in the squad feel part of the group.
“Boof brings a personality to a club. He’s one of those personalities who everyone takes a liking to,” Tambling said.
“Ever since my first day back Boof welcomed me and numerous other players with open arms and always brings a laugh to the club and always welcomes the young guys.
“He’s not so much a speaker. He more or less leads by example, and that goes to show with his professionalism towards his goalkicking.”
Tambling’s playing future is also unclear as he battles an ongoing knee problem.
“The knee hasn’t been the greatest over the last year and a bit, but it’s starting to come good a little bit now, and we’re going to take a further look at it at the end of the season,” Tambling said.
“All year I’ve only been going at about 70 or 80 percent, I can’t really spring to a jump, so if I can fix that I’ll try and give it another shot, but if it’s going to take longer than required, then life after football is the priority nowadays.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys coming through the ranks and guys like Cammy (Ilett), Boof (Darren Ewing) and Ryan Smith have come back to pave the way for the young guys a little bit because there’s nothing worse than just throwing a young guy in the deep end and not letting him develop at his own rate.”
One of the young players coming through is Malcolm Rosas, who made an outstanding debut in Thunder’s 18-point victory over Redland last weekend.
“I’ve honestly never seen a debut like that at Thunder level,” Tambling said. “He was pretty amazing. He looked really comfortable. He used the footy well. He played four quarters of footy, which I haven’t seen in a young guy before, so that was quite impressive.
“You don’t want to put too much pressure on a young kid, and he’s still got a few more years to develop before he can be considered at AFL level, but with the right attitude and right work rate he’s definitely got the skills and the want to back it all up.”
Tabling admits some disappointment with Thunder’s season but says the whole club is committed to finishing off the 2018 season as well as possible.
“I’ve enjoyed another year with the boys,” he said. “Obviously we haven’t had the season we’d like, but we’ve started to show some form over the last couple of weeks, and it’s only been a couple of quarters or a couple of lapses – 10 or 15-minute lapses – that have cost us throughout the year.
“Southport wants to take good form back into the finals. We’ve had some battles over the years and they’ve got the better of us this year and they obviously have a very, very strong outfit, but we’ve improved every week so there’s no reason why this week we can’t come out and finish off the year with a bit of form, and it’d be great to take that into next year and prove to ourselves that we can match it with the best and Southport being on top there’s no better way to do it.”
The Sharks lost to Aspley by 23 points last round, but is still on top of the NEAFL ladder, although in one of the more remarkable conclusions to a season, finds itself among a group of five clubs, including Sydney, Canberra, Aspley and Sydney University, who each have 10 wins.
That means the Sharks will be desperate not to fall behind that pack by losing to Thunder on Saturday.
NEAFL Round 20 – NT Thunder v Southport Sharks, 6:30pm Saturday 18 August, TIO Stadium, Darwin.
Curtain-raiser VFL W Round 15 – NT Thunder v Hawthorn, 4:00pm
Gates open 3pm