by Murray Silby
Friday night football returns to Darwin this week with NT Thunder facing one of the biggest challenges in NEAFL football when it hosts the Sydney Swans in Round 5.
Thunder will be full of confidence though after an impressive 39-point victory over Redland during NT’s first road trip of the season last weekend.
The win pushed Thunder into fourth position on the NEAFL ladder, one place behind this week’s opponent, Sydney.
They are part of a group of four clubs all with eight points, including Gold Coast (5th) and Canberra (6th) with their positions only separated by percentage.
Brisbane is top, ahead of Sydney University by percentage, as both remain undefeated after four rounds and have 16 points.
The Swans enjoyed a 36-point win over the Greater Western Sydney Giants last weekend in a replay of the 2016 grand final.
The Swans’ James Rose kicked four goals in that match and Brandon Jack polled 10 MVP votes to help their team reverse the result of last year’s grand final.
The Swans fielded 16 AFL-listed players and a number of other Swans Academy youngsters against GWS, meaning Thunder will be up against a similar talent-laden team on Friday night.
The Swans’ team included Oliver Florent, Michael Talia and Aliir Aliir.
Thunder will go into the match buoyed by the way it won last weekend’s game against Redland.
It wasn’t pretty for more than a half, but the team remained patient and was able to break the game open in the second, especially the final quarter.
It must have pleased the Thunder coaching staff that even during times of tight, congested football, their players were able to conjure quick scoring opportunities from the turnover.
The form of first-year forward Adam Sambono should also have Thunder fans flocking through the gates.
He sits in second place on the NEAFL MVP leaderboard, four votes behind Southport’s Jordan Keras and two ahead of the Swans’ Jack.
Sambono’s teammate Darren Ewing leads the NEAFL goalkicking with 14 goals after adding four against Redland. Sambono is equal third with 11 after kicking four himself and the pair seems to be developing one of the great forward combinations of the league.
NT’s backline has also been resolute so far this season, led by Cameron Ilett and well supported by Tom Davies against Redland, as well as Daniel Weetra and Justin Beugelaar among others.
Unfortunately, Davies will miss this week after accepting a one-game suspension from the match review panel for an incident of rough conduct during the third quarter on Saturday.
Thunder’s ruck combination of Neil Vea Vea and Ryan Smith may have lost the hit out count last weekend, but have also been invaluable around the ground, along with captain Shannon Rioli.
Coach Andrew Hodges said the Sydney match would be a big challenge for his young squad.
“Sydney is a great side, obviously with a lot of AFL-listed players in their side,” he said. “To take them on at home is pretty exciting for some of our younger kids.”
It’s been a busy week for Thunder, playing Redland in Brisbane on Saturday, flying back to Darwin and getting ready for Friday night’s match.
“We’ve had a short week this week so there’s been an emphasis on recovery and then preparation,” Hodges said.
Friday 28 April
NEAFL Round 5: NT Thunder vs Sydney Swans – 7.30 pm TIO Stadium, Darwin