By Murray Silby
NT Thunder has the perfect opportunity to lift itself off the bottom of the NEAFL ladder on Saturday night when it hosts Aspley in Round 7 at TIO Stadium in Darwin.
Thunder is currently propping up the ladder with just the one win but takes on the Hornets, who are second last.
The Hornets also have just the single victory from the season so far, a 53-point win over Redland in Round 5. Coincidently, Thunder’s only win was also over Redland, the week before in Round 4, by 25 points.
Thunder’s 11-point loss to the reigning premier, Southport, last weekend will give it confidence that, despite some heavy losses this season, it can match it with the top clubs.
“We’ll take a lot out of the last game, and there was a really good buzz after the match and on the flight home, and I’m sure there’ll be a good buzz at training this week,” young defender Kieren Parnell said.
“I guess the week before we got smashed and it really got put on us as a playing group that we’re not just here to make up numbers so to respond like that, not to get the win was obviously disappointing, but I guess the progress is there.
“It’s definitely there that we’re showing the intent and effort to improve every game, every day, so I guess you’re never pleased with losing, but you’re pleased with the progress.”
When Parnell was selected for Thunder in Round 1, it was his first game of any football since May 2017, thanks to successive knee reconstructions.
“I’ve had two on the right knee,” the 20-year-old said. “The most challenging part was the time it takes (to recover).
“It’s a long-term injury so that was probably the most challenging part, that it wouldn’t happen overnight. Doing all the rehab was fine; it was just the time aspect. It obviously takes time to get back.”
Parnell admitted there were times during his recovery when he wasn’t sure he could get back to his best.
“I guess you always doubt yourself that you can, but you’ve just got to do the work,” he said.
“I guess you don’t lose talent, you’ve got to get back and do the hard work and catch up and I guess I did that, and hopefully I can play some good footy this year.”
Parnell is already starting to play some good footy.
He was singled out by coach Darren Reeves after the Southport game, along with fellow defenders Daniel Weetra (22 disposals, six marks) and Ben Rioli (22 disposals) for his strong (15 disposals, six marks) match against the Sharks.
“I felt like I took a little bit of time to get into it in terms of flying for the footy and taking intercept marks,” he said.
“In the first half against Southport, I was a bit cautious, and I came out after half-time and really put on myself to fly for the footy because I knew I’d done the work with my knee and was back to full fitness.
“I had a few moments in the second half where I just flew for the ball, and my confidence just grew,” Parnell said.
Playing for Thunder in the NEAFL is the fulfilment of a childhood dream for Parnell.
“I mean when I was a little kid, and Thunder first started, I was in school, and they’d come down and do clinics, the players back then, and I always thought it’d be pretty cool to be one of them and then fast forward 10 years, and I’m there playing my first game. It’s pretty crazy how it all works out, but I’m just happy to put in the work and finally get rewarded with a Round 1 debut.”
After big losses to the Brisbane Lions, Sydney University and the Gold Coast Suns, Thunder was able to maintain a higher level of pressure and for longer against Southport, but Aspley can as well.
In Round 2 the Hornets pushed last year’s premiership team until the very end, going down by only eight points.
“We’re confident and excited to go into this week’s game against Aspley playing in Darwin, so it’s good to be back home, and hopefully we’ll get a win,” Parnell said.
“It’s a good opportunity this weekend against Aspley. Even though we’re both on the bottom of the ladder, it’s always a good contest when we play each other. Hopefully, we get some fans down to the game and get them a win.”
NEAFL Round 7: NT Thunder vs Aspley – 6.30pm Saturday 18 May, TIO Stadium, Darwin
The game is part of the NT Thunder doubleheader, with the VFLW team playing the Southern Saints at 3:30pm. One ticket two great games!