NT Thunder face archrivals in the Aspley Hornets this Saturday afternoon at Graham Road, in a do-or-die clash in the first NEAFL Elimination Final. Seasons are on the line as only one of last year’s Grand Final teams will advance to meet the Sydney Swans in a preliminary final.
Thunder Captain Shannon Rioli returns for the must-win match up in Brisbane that will mark the fourth time the Territory side have met the Hornets this year. On paper Thunder has the advantage, with the record standing at 10 wins to six in their favour. They have also been the victors at Graham Road on four occasions to two; but milestones for key Hornets’ defenders Michael Hutchinson and Gavin Grose, who are both set to play their 100th NEAFL game, will have the home side set on a win.
Aspley got the jump on Thunder in its last clash at TIO Stadium, when they upset the defending premiers by 19 points in Round 17. The key match-up to watch will be between Thunder playmaker, Cameron Ilett and two-time NEAFL MVP Matt Payne. It is sure to create a hard contest in the midfield, with both players known for calling the shots in tight situations.
Aspley’s last match saw a four point upset at the hands of the Gold Coast Suns Reserves, who snuck into the finals themselves and relegated the Hornets out of a top two position.
Thunder has vastly improved their form since the shock loss to the Canberra Demons in Round 18. The Territory team put away ladder-leaders and minor premiers in the Sydney Swans at TIO Stadium by 38-points before backing up with a convincing 56-point win over the Southport Sharks last week.
Head Coach Xavier Clarke said he was hoping the team continued the good form they had showed of late.
“The past couple of weeks is proof of what can do. We know that a four-quarter, consistent effort at the top of our game will go a long way to securing the win.
“We have a lot of respect for Aspley. They are a polished, finals-driven team and while we’re meeting them a little earlier in the piece than last year’s grand final we expect it to be just as tight a tussle.
“Having a natural leader like Shannon back in the side will be good for the young boys like Daly (Shannon), Michael (Bowden) and Patrick (Taban) who are all playing in their first NEAFL final.
“And Liam Patrick was pivotal in our last outing against Aspley. He kicked three that night, so we’re hoping he finds the goals just as much this weekend,” Clarke said.
ASPLEY vs NT THUNDER
1:30pm AEST Graham Rd Oval
Saturday 27 August 2016
By Levi Dobson