by Murray Silby
NT Thunder’s unbeaten VFL W run has ended on five games at the hands of the Southern Saints, who prevailed in a low-scoring affair by 20 points, 6.2 (38) to 2.6 (18).
Just one point separated the two sides at three-quarter-time, but kicking with a breeze at their backs at Skybus Stadium in Frankston, the Saints ran home with three goals to none with Tara Bohanna slotting two through (three for the day) to guarantee the victory.
The Saints managed to hold Thunder goal-less in both the first and last quarters, their defence restricting what is usually a free-scoring unit with a range of scoring options.
It’s just the second game of the season that Thunder has been unable to put a goal on the scoreboard during a quarter. The only other was in the third quarter against Darebin in Round 1, but Thunder went on to win that match by 54 points.
As Thunder was being held goal-less in the opening term, the Saints booted two to open up a nine-point lead at the first change.
Ashleigh Allsop got the scoring underway for the home side and the inclusion of former Carlton AFL W captain and new Brisbane recruit Lauren Arnell for her first game of the season paid dividends with her kicking the Saints’ second at the 19-minute mark.
Thunder notched up its first goal in the second term through Jessica Sedunary, but Bohanna’s first of the day helped the Saints extend their lead by a point to 10 points at half-time.
Although the margin wasn’t great, Thunder’s goal scoring had been severely curtailed by the Saints defence and the NT side’s unbeaten record looked in serious peril.
Thunder managed to keep the Saints goal-less in the third term though, while adding one of its own through Lisa Roberts to narrow the deficit to two points.
With it all to play for in the final quarter, it was the Southern Saints’ Bohanna who stepped up to break the game open.
She scored her second of the match after eight minutes of the final term. That stretched the Saints’ lead to eight points and meant Thunder had to kick two goals in 10 minutes, or double the number of goals it had kicked for the entire match to that point, to win the game.
Instead of a heroic come-from-behind Thunder win though, Bohanna popped up at the 11-minute mark to all but seal the victory for the Saints with her third, taking the Saints lead to 14 points.
Alison Drennan’s goal after 14 minutes hammered the final nail home and with just a handful of minutes left, the Saints 20-point lead was an unbeatable one.
Thunder again went into the match with a massive turnover of players – 11 this week to follow 10 the week before.
Coach Tim Weatherald said that was partly due to player management and partly due to a VFL W directive.
“At the start of the year, and every club had the same rule, you were allowed to play 12 AFLW-listed players,” he said.
“We planned from the start of the season the 12 AFLW players we’d have and that was a mixture of the four girls who play up in Darwin and generally eight girls or nine girls from Adelaide to play each week to make that 12 up.
“That way we’d be able to rest some of the AFLW girls in Darwin. So when they rest obviously we could play nine from Adelaide. We had it all penciled in what would happen and they’ve now told us we’re only allowed to play four players from Adelaide. That means the most AFLW players we could play is eight now and those weeks I’m going to give Ange Foley a rest we’re down to seven.”
The VFL W has made the directive on the NT Thunder while each of the Victorian-based clubs will still be able to field 12 AFLW-listed players.
“If we had six players up in Darwin we could still play 10, but we don’t,” Weatherald explained.
“It’s disappointing. If we’d known that rule from the start of the year we could have planned for it. We planned for what the rule was and we haven’t gone outside the rules at all. We’ve played exactly to what the rules were and unfortunately that’s been changed six games in,” Weatherald said.
“It’s very disappointing for those Adelaide girls who’ve trained really hard down there and they’ve penciled in when they’re going to play throughout the season and now they won’t get that opportunity.
“We’re not going to use that as an excuse. We still put out what I thought was a really good side and the side to me, ability-wise, should have won. That wasn’t the reason we lost today. The reason we lost was we were second to the ball and didn’t play to the best of our ability.”
In response to the VFL W’s concerns at how many Adelaide-based Crows players have been playing with Thunder, the club rested Sophie Armitstead, Georgia Bevan, Courtney Cramey, Jenna McCormick, Chelsea Randall, Sally Riley and Deni Varnhagen.
One of the players brought in to replace them was 17-year-old Tabitha May, who plays for Palmerston in the NTFL and was the Territory’s most valuable player during Round 1 of the Under 18 National Championships.
“After the debut of Tabs (May) this weekend we will have played 22 local NT girls from a possible 28, and that’s not including our four Darwin-based AFLW players,” Weatherald said, “So the coaching staff believe we are on track in our goal to develop our local talent alongside the best in the business.”
Added to the disruption created by the VFL W directive during the week, Thunder’s on-field efforts were hampered by injuries to second ruck Jasmyn Hewett, Machaelia Roberts and Renee Forth.
Among Thunder’s better players though were wingers Katie Streader, in her second game, and Jasmine Anderson, along with Ruth Wallace up forward, while captain Angela Foley battled hard and Lauren Motlop contributed some high-quality efforts.
Southern Saints 2.0, 3.1, 3.1, 6.2 (38)
NT Thunder 0.3, 1.3, 2.5, 2.6 (18)
GOALS: Southern Saints – Tara Bohanna 3, Ashleigh Allsopp, Lauren Arnell, Alison Drennan.
NT Thunder – Lisa Roberts, Jessica Sedunary.
BEST: NT Thunder – Katie Streader, Jasmine Anderson, Ruth Wallace, Lauren Motlop, Angela Foley, Jess Allan.