By Murray Silby
NT Thunder gets another opportunity to lift itself off the bottom of the NEAFL ladder this weekend when it hosts Redland in Round 9 at TIO Stadium.
The match will be a curtain raiser to the Melbourne-Adelaide AFL game afterwards, and the Thunder team will wear its Indigenous jumper in correlation with the AFL’s Sir Doug Nicholls Round and the AFL game that will be played immediately following.
Thunder defeated Redland by 25 points in Round 4 in a performance that suggested it was turning its form around after disappointing losses in the first two rounds.
That remains the team’s only victory for the season so far though, despite hard-fought losses to reigning premier Southport by 11 points in Round 6 and Canberra by 28 points last weekend.
Most of the losses, however, have followed severe lapses for prolonged periods in a match with last week’s game against the Demons a case in point.
Thunder was never fully able to bridge the gap set up by Canberra’s 10 goals to two first term, and it’s a problem coach Darren Reeves and his squad is spending countless hours attempting to fix.
The Redland match provides an opportunity for Thunder to show some progress in that area.
It won’t be easy, however, as although the Bombers only have one win themselves this year, they did push Southport all the way last week, losing by just six points.
The Bombers even held a 10-point lead at three-quarter time and if not for only managing six behinds in the final quarter, might have had a second victory for 2019.
One of Thunder’s best players last week was a debutant, Cohen Thiele.
In football terms, Thiele was plucked from semi-retirement in the NTFL’s Division 1 playing for Banks.
He fell for the age-old ploy of being invited down to Thunder training to help out and now, with his skill set and 10 years of experience from playing with North Adelaide in the SANFL, looks set to play a key role in the team’s midfield.
“I had a couple of friends living up here (in Darwin) at the time and a mate of mine, who was coaching at Banks, was always in my ear about coming up and having a kick and so at the end of my career at North Adelaide. I decided to move up to Darwin in 2017 for a bit of change and really enjoyed it up here,” Thiele said.
“I wanted to take a little bit of step back from playing at a reasonable level and just trying to enjoy my footy a little bit more, which I guess is how I found myself playing at Banks.”
But, as clubs do when they hear of some talent being about, Thunder manager Andrew Hodges and Reeves came knocking.
“It just started with me going to training to help out with numbers because they were a little bit light on, which helped me out with my fitness and stuff, which progressed to me having meetings with Hodgey and Reevesy with regards to this season and sure enough I decided to put the boots on,” the 30-year-old explained.
Thunder has been able to match it with all of its opponents so far this season for periods of matches but too often has fallen away for decisive amounts of time.
Thiele thinks when Thunder’s consistency comes, so too will the wins.
“I think we go into the game with a little bit of confidence knowing that we’ve beaten Redland before, but for us, it’s just focusing on those four-quarter efforts at the moment, which we haven’t been able to do so far,” he said.
“I think we know that it’s just a matter of stringing those quarters together.
At 176 centimetres he’s bucking the trend of the “big-bodied midfielder” of recent seasons but is likely to find himself playing a midfield role for the remainder of the season, if his form of last Saturday is anything to go by.
“I found myself playing a lot of midfield, mainly just bringing a little bit of leadership and structure to the side,” he explained.
Thunder’s Indigenous jumper was designed by former Thunder player Nathan Djerrkura, a Yolngu man from the Wangurri clan.
Djerrkura played four matches for Geelong in 2009-2010 before spending two years at the Western Bulldogs.
He also designed the Geelong Football Club’s Indigenous guernsey in 2016 and is a well-known Indigenous artist.
Thiele said this week’s game takes on increased importance because it recognises the contribution of Indigenous players to the game, especially in the Thunder squad, 60 per cent of which are Indigenous.
“Moving up here, there’s obviously a lot of Indigenous talent up here,” he said. “It’s exciting just being able to run out with some of these players, and I guess you’re blessed with all this talent.
“I’m looking forward to it and these guys, playing in these rounds it means a lot to them so it’s a big game for us.”
NEAFL Round 9: NT Thunder vs Redland – 3:30pm 1 June, TIO Stadium, Darwin
*Please note an AFL game ticket will be required for entry as this is the curtain-raiser to the AFL’s Round 11 game between Melbourne and Adelaide. Members with AFL rights have been contacted; all other tickets can be purchased at NTIX.com.au.