By Murray Silby
NT Thunder has had a tough opening to the 2019 NEAFL season, going down to Brisbane Lions by 65 points, 5.5 (35) to 13.22 (100) at TIO Stadium in Darwin on Saturday night.
The match started in heavy rainfall, that regularly re-emerged during the match, but it could be said a well-drilled Brisbane outfit’s skills were as if they were playing on a dry day. All except the goal-kicking perhaps.
The home side started in lightning fashion with two goals on the board within four minutes.
Playing his first Thunder game in almost six years, Dean Staunton kicked his major from a free kick directly in front of the goals within a minute of the season starting, while debutant Trent Melville followed up a couple of minutes later, using his strength, to get the kick away.
But Brisbane hit back with the next three goals to Lewis Taylor, Allen Christensen and Cedric Cox, to snatch a six-point lead at quarter time.
It was the Lions to start quickly in the second term with Toby Wooller kicking his first of two for the day inside a minute of the term getting underway.
It was another debutant, one of eight in the game for Thunder, Kieran Delahunty, who snapped an answer for the home side after five minutes.
Tom Cutler kicked the only other goal of the term, the first of his four for the day, to give Brisbane a 22-point lead at half-time.
Although fighting hard, and the deficit manageable, the signs weren’t good for Thunder though with the Lions having 60 per cent of the possession and 59 more disposals by the half-way mark.
Brisbane continued to grind away at the home side in the third term, adding three more goals, while holding Thunder to just the single behind, as the Lions’ lead ballooned out to 48 points.
Cutler added another two goals with Cedric Cox getting reward for his energy in the forward half.
The Lions continued to work away, with greater numbers getting to the ball, whether in attack or defence, and their skills belying the sodden conditions.
Corey Lyons, Cox, Wooller and Cutler all pushed home the advantage for Brisbane while Melville added two late majors for Thunder to round out his day with three goals.
The game was the first real opportunity for Thunder’s new coach, Darren Reeves, to get his whole side together for a game.
Unlike Brisbane, which has been training together for months, Reeves has only had his full squad together for a matter of weeks since the NTFL season concluded in Darwin.
Given the lack of preparation, Reeves said there were some good signs for the club, despite the scoreline.
“While we’re disappointed, the expectation was that we were starting from a long way back and we just need to look to improve week to week, and we’ll continue to do that,” Reeves said.
“We knew that we were up against it in terms of the list that they were putting out with 18 AFL-listed players, it’s a struggle in that sense.
“We hope to be more competitive and stay in the game longer. We weren’t able to do that, but we’ll learn from it and we’ll be better for it next week, no question.”
Brisbane had a massive 105 more disposals than Thunder, 39 more kicks and 66 more handballs as the Lions shared the ball around.
Christensen led the individual disposals count on the night with 34, while Taylor was second with 28.
Apart from his four goals, Cutler had 22 disposals.
The leading gatherer of disposals for Thunder was captain Abraham Ankers with 19.
“I can’t question our blokes’ attack on the ball or their effort in that sense,” Reeves said.
“It was more that we were really eager to get around the ball and we got exposed on the outside of the contest, and they were really, really good in their work around the contest and in their ability to use the ball and their roles really well. Showed us up.
“I thought Daniel Weetra and Braedon McLean were really solid in defence. Ben Rioli worked his backside off over four quarters and I thought Adam Tipungwuti was solid as well. He was pretty clean and had some really nice moments and some moments he’ll learn from, but I thought he worked really hard, so that was a positive.”
Thunder travels to take on Sydney University next week, which enjoyed a 47-point opening round win over Aspley.
NT THUNDER 2.3, 3.4, 3.5, 5.5 (35)
BRISBANE LIONS 3.3, 6.8, 9.19, 13.22 (100)
GOALS: NT Thunder – Trent Melville 3, Kieran Delahunty, Dean Staunton.
Brisbane Lions – Tom Cutler 4, Cedric Cox 3, Corey Lyons, Toby Wooller 2, Allen Christensen, Lewis Taylor.
BEST: NT Thunder – Abraham Ankers, Phillip Wills, Daniel Weetra, Braedon McLean, Adam Tipungwuti, Ben Rioli.
Brisbane Lions – Allen Christensen, Tom Cutler, Lewis Taylor, Cedric Cox, Toby Wooller, Keidean Coleman.