by Murray Silby
Canberra has sent a warning through the NEAFL that its season is still alive and its finals hopes have more than a pulse, after thrashing NT Thunder in Round 16 on Saturday by 145 points, 28.19 (187) to 6.6 (42).
On a crisp, but sunny day at UNSW Canberra Oval – or Manuka Oval to many – the Demons set about making the most of a weekend when their main rival for a spot in the NEAFL top six, Sydney University, had a bye.
Canberra started the weekend on the same wins and losses as the Students, but a large 13 per cent behind on the ladder and consequently was in seventh and Sydney University in sixth place.
That turned around in the space of a couple of hours at Manuka Oval though and it’s the Demons who now hold down sixth place.
Up against a Thunder side hampered by a continually growing injury list, Canberra seized its opportunity.
Fielding only 22 players, rather than the possible 23 after two late withdrawals meant it simply ran out of available players on its list, and with more than half its side playing their first season of NEAFL football, Thunder faced an almighty task.
“We played with 22 today because we had a couple pull out on Thursday night and we actually didn’t have anyone to replace them so that’s where we sit at the moment, unfortunately,” coach Darren Reeves said.
“We literally just had no-one else. We had no-one else who was available to come and play for us today.”
Despite the season’s casualties, Reeves was reluctant to use it as an excuse for the one-sided result.
“It was so tough for us last week (against GWS) and take six out of that side and play some guys, who maybe aren’t quite ready and it’s going to be difficult,” Reeves suggested.
“Even though we were very young and very inexperienced and maybe not ready to play NEAFL footy today, there were still some really disappointing efforts so that doesn’t help.
“Nothing’s gone right for the season, but you can control effort and I just think that we didn’t do that today.
“I guess the physical difference between us and them was dramatic. They (Canberra) were efficient. Probably as good as they’ve played in terms of their offensive stuff and their work for each other was very, very good. They were as good as we’ve played this year from what I saw, but we were miles off it too.”
The signs were there as early as the first quarter that it was going to be a tough day for Thunder as it struggled to get the ball inside its forward 50 and then, when the ball was turned around by the Demons, it was like a wave of Canberra players sharing it around as they moved forward.
The Demons transitioned swiftly from defence into attack, scoring every few minutes to finish with six for the quarter and a 34-point lead at quarter-time.
Ben Rioli was Thunder’s only goal scorer for the term, benefitting from a rare moment of freedom in the forward 50 to find space, take a mark and kick a desperately needed goal from a tight angle.
Searching for a percentage boost, Canberra went to work in the second term in order to achieve that.
The Demons kicked the first four goals of the quarter, Tom Faul kicking the first three of them with Kel Evans chiming in for the fourth.
David Johnston bobbed up after 16 minutes to boot Thunder’s second of the game, but then Mitch Maguire and Andrew Swan (two goals) turned the screws further.
Thunder’s third goal of the match and second of the term was scored by Chris Williams on the 26-minute mark, but then Maguire and Jack Powell rounded out a depressing half for the visitors, with Powell’s goal after the siren handing Canberra a 79-point lead at half-time.
Thunder mounted something of a minor comeback in the third term, kicking the first two goals of the quarter through Rioli and Nigel Lockyer, and by holding Canberra goal-less until the 16th-minute mark, but then the walls of defence crumbled after that.
Lucas Meline kicked truly on the run after 16-and-a-half minutes and within the next 10 minutes, the Demons added another three to push their lead out to 94 points.
Rioli added Thunder’s third for the quarter just after 28 minutes, which was set up by a great defensive punch from one of the visitor’s best for the day, Kieren Parnell, which forced the turnover.
Thunder had been outscored by three goals to four in the term, its best of the game.
The misery was only compounded in the final quarter, however, when Canberra, now looking for a massive percentage boost, pressed on against a weary Thunder, which began to wilt under the onslaught.
The Demons piled on another nine goals while keeping their visitors goal-less.
The term started and finished with golden opportunities for Canberra captain Aaron Bruce to mark his NEAFL games record-breaking appearance with fairytale goals, only for him to kick three behinds.
Playing in his 155th NEAFL game, one more than Thunder’s retired champion goal-kicker Darren Ewing, Bruce was serviceable, mostly in defence, without being among the Demons’ goal-kickers, but plenty queued up to make the most of their opportunities.
Swan kicked three to take his match tally to five, Evans kicked one for four – one in each quarter – and Mitch Hardie booted two for a game tally of three.
Thunder’s inability to score a goal in the final term underlined the tough task it faced on the day and was representative of the struggle its had all season after facing numerous injuries to key, senior players and having to blood youngsters still in their developmental stages.
“The positive out of today is that I thought Brodie Carroll was really, really good,” Reeves said.
“Kieren Parnell was excellent, Joel Budarick, as a young kid, who Thursday night wasn’t going to play because he was ill, but then on Friday night, when he saw the situation we were in, put his hand up and got down from Katherine and got on a plane.
“There are some real positives in those three kids.
“We have a really young bunch of kids who are probably physically worn down and we just go back to the drawing board.
“As the coach, I’ve just got to try and stay really positive with them. We can’t let the negativity creep in. I think they feel they’ve reached rock bottom today. We’ve just got to try and stay as positive as possible and keep moving forward.
“It’s a real challenge at the moment. Absolutely.”
CANBERRA 6.5, 15.9, 19.14, 28.19 (187)
NT THUNDER 1.1, 3.2, 6.4, 6.6 (42)
GOALS: Canberra – Andrew Swan 5, Kel Evans 4, Harrison Carr, Tom Faul, Mitch Hardie, Mitch Maguire 3, Lucas Meline, Alex Paech 2, Jarrod Osborne, Rhys Pollock, Jack Powell.
NT Thunder – Ben Rioli 3, David Johnston, Nigel Lockyer, Chris Williams.
BEST: Canberra – Kel Evans, Mitch Maguire, Jordan Harper, Angus Baker, Andrew Swan, Mitch Hardie.
NT Thunder – Kieren Parnell, Jack Hannath, Brodie Carroll, Joel Budarick, Ben Rioli, Jacob Templeton.