by Kyle Champion
This Sunday 12 May, NT Thunder will begin its second VFLW campaign to compete against the best talent Victoria has to offer.
Thunder had an outstanding first year in 2018; the inaugural side finished fourth overall. Thunder will look to raise the bar this year as their new team is ready to enter the fray.
Lateesha Jeffrey has been named the new captain as Angela Foley steps down to vice-captaincy. With a privileged position, Jeffrey is excited about the challenges of leadership.
“It kind of sunk in (the captaincy) more when it was officially announced to the girls. I was told a couple of days before, and I was driving home thinking yeah (great),” Jeffrey said. “There’s the excitement of being in the team, and then there is that extra excitement of leading the team.”
The burdens of leadership haven’t troubled Jeffrey due to a leadership group of champions and a team comprised of leaders.
“We’ve got a leadership group that has a huge amount of experience and knowledge. I don’t feel as much pressure because I have the likes of Lisa Roberts, Angela Foley, Stevie Lee Thompson and Ebony Miller (supporting me),” Jeffrey said. “Just in the group itself, I definitely learnt and was able to reflect on it a little bit more after our camp that we pretty much have a team of leaders.”
Last year demanded plenty of commitment from the NT Thunder team and this year is no different. The training is high demand, but Jeffrey knows what her team is working towards.
“I remember pre-season when we were working really hard, and then when the season came, we were like ‘This is why we have to work this hard’. VFLW (is) definitely a higher played, higher intensity, higher skill level. We now know that, and we know all the training we do that there’s a purpose behind it.”
Last year NT Thunder had to face the reigning premiers Darebin in the first round. Thunder destroyed the Falcons with a record-breaking win. Now they must face the 2018 premiers, Hawthorn who defeated Thunder in their last encounter.
“It’s not going to be an easy game, and it wasn’t an easy game last season knowing that we were coming up against the reigning premiers to start things off,” Jeffrey said. “It may take us a little while to get our feet, but it’s going to be a competitive match.”
Despite the task that Hawthorn pose, Thunder seems more eager to get onto the field and play football.
“It is a bit nerve-racking, but we’re all really keen to play footy,” Jeffrey said. “We haven’t played in a few weeks, and we’re all just keen to put the boots on and get out there.”
Coach Heidi Thompson, on the other hand, is very curious to see where her team sits against last year’s premiers.
“I think it’s great; I think it’s great to see the benchmark. To see where we are at, to see where our game plan sits against a highly competitive team and the reigning premiers,” Thompson said.
“We are in a good position whether we win or lose because obviously if win we’ve put in a really good performance on the park. If we don’t get the win, then we have the whole season to have a look at some of our vision and make amends and work towards Round 2 and beyond.”
The Hawks, who are yet to be awarded an AFLW license, have shown they have enough star quality to make a successful team.
So far this year they’ve had an intraclub match before a competitive hit out against Casey at the end of April, which they lost by 13 points.
A few of their players from last year’s premiership team have decided to stay with their AFLW-affiliated clubs but returning to their fold from Carlton is 2018 Hawthorn best and fairest winner, Jayde Van Dyk.
Sarah ‘Tex’ Perkins (Adelaide Crows), Rebecca Beeson (GWS) and Pepa Randall (GWS) are some of the others opposition clubs can expect this year.
Back on home turf, NT Thunder announced its full VFLW squad last Friday. See here
The list of 43 includes 31 players who were exposed to playing at VFLW level last year and also boasts 12 experienced 2019 AFLW premiership players amongst a plethora of talented locals.
One player Thompson is keen to see out on the field is the 2018/2019 Gwynne Medallist Janet Baird. Baird had a few injuries playing for Thunder last year, but now she is ready to go for the opening round.
“Janet Baird will be playing in the midfield for Round 1,” said Thompson. “She’s a player that didn’t get picked up in her draft year. I think she had a few injuries last year, but she’ll be an influential member of our group in 2019.”
The full NT Thunder Round 1 VFLW team to take on Hawthorn will be announced on Thursday evening.
VFLW Round 1: Hawthorn vs NT Thunder – 11:30am Sunday 12 May, Box Hill City Oval, Melbourne