By Murray Silby
A brave NT Thunder has lost its final game of the NEAFL season by 33 points to Aspley in Round 21, losing 17.16 (118) to 12.13 (85).
The match might be classed as a metaphor for Thunder’s season with some late outs, costly injuries during the match and a few missed opportunities that allowed the momentum to be wrestled away by the opposition.
Perhaps the most striking characteristic, however, was the Thunder players’ determination to play out the game, despite the odds.
Already with a very young lineup, Thunder played the whole match one man down after the late withdrawals of Joel Jeffrey, Adam Tinpungwuti and Nigel Lockyer.
It took only about 16 minutes for Thunder’s goose to look a little cooked.
By that stage, the Hornets had already stung into action and had five goals on the board, including two to James Nelis.
With the Thunder’s tough season still fresh in the memory, the hardiest of supporters might have slumped in their chairs.
But Thunder had something different in mind and set about kicking the next three goals through Kieran Delahunty, Jess Budarick and Malcolm Rosas, to only trail by 13 points at quarter-time.
The Hornets opened the second term with the first two goals, including Nelis’ third of the game and Connor Stackelberg’s second.
Stackelberg added a third a little after Will Farrer got Thunder’s first for the term on the scoreboard.
Ed Barlow, for Thunder, and Jono Freeman, for Aspley, rounded out the quarter.
In what was becoming something of a dour contest, Aspley went into the long change with a 24-point lead and seemingly in control of its destiny.
That feeling was reinforced within minutes of the third quarter getting underway as first William Murphy and then big Jake Spencer, on the run no less, kicked majors.
Farrer and Rosas popped up with goals to keep Thunder in touch, before the Hornets’ Cody Stackelberg got in on the action.
Abraham Ankers kicked the final goal of the term to leave the visitors 27 points down at the final change.
Aspley had the first opportunity in the final quarter, only for it to register a behind, before Thunder itself enjoyed a series of chances.
A couple of behinds didn’t help the comeback much, but successive majors to Farrer and Ankers brought the margin back to 15 points.
Two more behinds felt a lot like missed opportunities for Thunder and as is often the case after some disappointing misses, the opposition flew up the other end of the ground not once, but twice, with both goals kicked by Murphy, who finished the day with three.
Delahunty’s second of the match pulled the margin back a little, but it only delayed the inevitable, with Cody Stackelberg, Jono Giles and Thomas Baulch finishing off any sort of challenge.
Farrer’s fourth of the match late in the game provided the final bow before the curtains came down on Thunder’s season and an unfortunate last place finish.
“At the start of the last quarter we were within four goals and we had three of the first four shots on goal. If you kick three goals you get yourself right in touch and it may be a different end to the game, but then momentum of the game is that they’re able to get forward and score and just keep that buffer all the time,” coach Darren Reeves said after the game.
“You’ve got to grab your chances at this level and if you don’t you get hurt so that’s disappointing, but overall, unbelievably proud of the young group.”
Despite being frustrated by another loss, Reeves praised the efforts of his players under difficult circumstances.
“We started the game one short – 22 – some numbers out, who we had no opportunity to replace, so that hurt and then (Jacob) Templeton was out concussed in the first 10 minutes of the game to put us on the back foot dramatically, so hell of an effort.
Then, to give up the first five goals of the game, it could have been ugly, but they just kept going, just kept sticking with it.
“Again, we had a 16-year-old kid in Ned Stevens coming in late, who just gave a hell of an effort for a young kid. Mixed with the other under 18 kids we’ve got and the other young blokes we’ve got, that’s the real positive to take out of it.”
Despite only recording two wins for the season – both against second-last Redland – Reeves is confident Thunder’s current crop of young players has what it takes to drive the club back up the NEAFL ladder.
“The game time we’ve got into a lot of young kids is going to hold them in great stead moving forward,” Reeves suggested.
“There’s four or five, six, seven under 18 kids who have had five, six, seven, eight, 10 games at this level now so you can’t buy that experience and the understanding of what they need to do and where they need to get physically to be able to compete is invaluable.
“On the back of that, (co-captain) Abe Ankers has had an incredible year, Benny Rioli’s had an incredible year. Those two have been absolute stand outs. Kieren Parnell had another outstanding day and we’re really excited by what it looks like for him. He can’t do anything more. He’s done everything right and hopefully somebody gives him an opportunity at AFL level.
“Mally (Malcolm) Rosas was outstanding today too.”
Reeves maintains that Thunder has a strong core and as the younger players mature, they’ll add some skill as well as some muscle.
“Jack Hannath, as a ruckman, just gave us everything today too and through the course of the year, competing time after time,” Reeves added.
“I said to the guys after the game, the difference between where we sit right now and the team that wins the flag in a couple of weeks’ time is minimal and it’s just getting everything right and just really proud of this young group,” Reeves said.
“While everything’s been against us, this collective here, with some others who are injured, have just stuck at it and the way they’ve gone about their training and learnt how to train at high intensity and yes, we need to do things better, we need to get on top of the extra work and all that type of stuff, but then the challenges around how much footy these guys play is unique, so there’s a balancing act there as well.
“There’s lots to like. We’ve just go to keep building.”
ASPLEY 5.4, 9.8, 12.12, 17.16 (118)
NT THUNDER 3.3, 5.8, 8.9, 12.13 (85)
Aspley – William Murphy, James Nelis, Connor Stackelberg 3, Jono Freeman, Cody Stackelberg 2, Thomas Baulch, Jono Giles, Jordan Hayden, Jake Spencer.
NT Thunder – Will Farrer 4, Abraham Ankers, Kieran Delahunty, Malcolm Rosas 2, Ed Barlow, Jess Budarick.
Aspley – Matthew Payne, Jordan Hayden, Thomas Templeton, Jake Spencer, Connor Stackelberg, James Nelis.
NT Thunder – Nate Paredes, Kieren Parnell, Josiah Farrer, Abraham Ankers, Malcolm Rosas, Benjamin Rioli.