by Murray Silby
A masterful second half has helped Sydney University hand NT Thunder a football lesson in their Round 19 NEAFL game at TIO Stadium in Darwin on Saturday night.
The Students kicked 13.8 to 3.7 in the second half to run away with an 88-point victory over Thunder, 21.14 (140) to 7.10 (52).
Thunder started the match with good intent and with forward Kieran Delahunty kicking the first goal of the match after a neat pass from Abraham Ankers.
Ankers would later become one of Thunder’s three goal-kickers in the first quarter with Thunder debutant, and former Aspley player, Ed Barlow – a late replacement for Nigel Lockyer – being the third.
Unfortunately for Thunder, however, Sydney University kicked five of its own, including three in succession in the middle part of the term, to jump out to a 14-point lead at quarter time.
The second quarter saw some great physical intent on display by the home side, but poor kicking in front of goal meant Thunder went into the long break 27 points down and with Dylan McLachlan sidelined for the rest of the game with a hamstring injury.
Delahunty added his second goal of the game during the term, but he was the only Thunder player to do so, while the Students kicked another three.
Despite the deficit, Thunder’s performance didn’t look so bad on the stats sheet, which suggested it wasn’t completely out of the game.
Thunder even led the kicks count 104 to 84 and the marks 48 to 40. It was in the red when it came to disposals though, 135 to 143, hit-outs; 15 to 20, and handballs, 31 to 56, but only marginally behind for time in possession of the ball, 49 per cent to 51 per cent.
Any sense that Thunder was still in the game was blown away in the third quarter, however, during which the Students piled on eight goals to two, to push their lead out to 10 goals.
Harry Morrison led the charge for Sydney University with three goals in the term to help shut Thunder right out of the match.
The quarter wasn’t without its highlights for Thunder though with Delahunty rising high over one of the biggest men on the ground, Sydney University ruckman Sam Tagliabue, to take one of the marks of the year.
Seventeen-year-old Joel Jeffrey was switched from defence to attack and kicked his first goal of the game while Ben Rioli booted a long bomb on the run from 50 metres.
The 65-point deficit at three-quarter-time left Thunder little hope but to play for pride and that’s what they did.
Unfortunately, wayward kicking limited the team’s effectiveness. Its 1.5 wasn’t enough to match the Students’ 5.4 for even a final term win, but it did reflect a willingness to fight out the contest rather than to capitulate.
Coach Darren Reeves said after the match that misses in front of goal had deprived Thunder of any chance of applying scoreboard pressure to Sydney University.
“Even in the first half we were disappointed in how we defended them,” Reeves said. “We just allowed them to counter-attack us and hurt us in those types of moments and that was really frustrating, but we felt like we gave ourselves enough opportunities to score. We spilt some marks and missed some set shots and scoreboard pressure is everything and we felt that we could have been much closer at half-time.
“It was really disappointing and we spoke about it at half-time and when we did miss those opportunities they were often able to score pretty quickly the other way and that’s the real challenge for us, and I’ve said this a number of times, our real challenge is being able to defend teams.
“Often they scored on the back of us having a shot at goal or an inside 50 entry. We let them go the other way and score, so that was disappointing.”
Reeves said it’s pleasing how some of the squad’s younger players are developing, despite the disappointing season.
“That’s the positive,” he explained. “We’re such a young group with all our injuries and the other things that have gone against us, but they are definitely having a real crack at it and that’s a real positive so we just need a collective effort from everyone throughout the game.”
The players wore black armbands out of respect after the recent loss of three NT football identities, including Jerry Frank, Garry Mettam and Sid Rusca.
Mr Rusca’s grandson, Brandon, did his Pop proud to be named among Thunder’s best, along with a number of other young hopes.
“I thought Brandon Rusca was really solid tonight, Kieren Parnell again was in our top couple, Joel Jeffrey had some really nice moments, Mally Rosas had some really nice moments,” Reeves said.
Jeffrey, still a year away from being eligible for the AFL Draft, enhanced his reputation as one of the NT’s best prospects by being serviceable both in defence and attack.
“We like him in defence, but we put him forward in the second half and he provided a nice target and he kicked one goal and had a couple of other opportunities to score,” Reeves said.
“We know he’s a talented kid. He’s a first-year under 18. He’s got the world at his feet, so it’s exciting to see him be able to do that.”
Reeves said the result wasn’t how the team wanted to follow up its last start win over Redland.
“We’re really disappointed that the effort we put in the previous game, we just went away from that and that was disappointing.
“We’ll keep working, that’s for certain.”
NT THUNDER 3.1, 4.3, 6.5, 7.10 (52)
SYDNEY UNIVERSITY 5.3, 8.6, 16.10, 21.14 (140)
GOALS: NT Thunder – Kieran Delahunty 2, Abraham Ankers, Ed Barlow, Joel Jeffrey, Ben Rioli, Damian Williams.
Sydney University – Harry Morrison 5, Monty Krochmal 4, Joshua Stern 3, Jake Bartholomaeus, Tristan Davies, Will Sierakowski 2, Nicholas Foster, Lewis Stevenson.
BEST: NT Thunder – Ben Rioli, Abraham Ankers, Kieren Parnell, Josiah Farrer, Brandon Rusca, Ed Barlow.
Sydney University –Tom Banuelos, Harry Morrison, Monty Krochmal, Bailey Stewart, Jake Bartholomaeus, Josh Stern.