Aside from the obvious four points and ladder position, perhaps upper most in the minds of NT Thunder players ahead of this weekend’s Round 18 NEAFL game will be proving that last week’s heavy defeat to the Sydney Swans was an aberration rather than a true indication of the team’s quality.
Thunder takes on Southport at TIO Stadium in Darwin on Saturday afternoon and is aiming to bounce back from the 146-point loss to Sydney at the SCG.
Far from being crushed by the defeat, Thunder coach Andrew Hodges says his players have responded well and have resolved to put things right on Saturday.
“The players’ spirits are really positive this week about turning things around after the really disappointing loss last week,” Hodges said.
“The feeling amongst the group is one of determination. I think the more experienced guys that missed the game found it very difficult to watch and see their mates go through that type of loss so they’re really keen to get back into the side and turn it around this week.”
Thunder fielded its youngest side of the season against the might of ladder-leading Sydney last weekend due to the unavailability of several senior players, including captain Shannon Rioli and his brother Ben, former Richmond and Adelaide player Richard Tambling, ruckman Ryan Smith, on baller Abraham Ankers and centre-half-forward Hugo Drogemuller.
Many, if not all, are likely to return to the side this week.
“We fielded a very young side against the Sydney Swans at the SCG,” Hodges said. “We’ll get some experience back this week. There could be up to eight guys available for this week’s game.”
There’s good reason to think Thunder can reverse its form on Saturday given the club sits fourth on the ladder and their opponents eighth and because Thunder has won nine games and Southport four.
If they need any more inspiration they could also look to their opponents and the last time these two sides met.
When they played each other in Round 13 in Alice Springs, it was the Sharks who won, by 53 points.
Their win on that occasion represented a similar turn around to what Thunder is hoping to achieve this weekend.
The week before the Round 13 encounter, the Sharks had lost to Brisbane by 150 points while the Thunder had defeated Canberra by 91 points.
In the Round 13 match against Southport Thunder had difficulty containing huge forward Hamish Shepheard, who booted six goals and Joshua Baxter, who kicked four. On baller, Jordan Keras was also prolific as usual.
Thunder has enough of its own stars to cause the Sharks plenty of trouble though, including gun forwards.
The league’s leading goal-kicker, Darren Ewing, still managed to kick three goals last week, despite the big loss, while exciting young forward Adam Sambono returned to the side in last week’s game.
Former captain and five-time club champion Cameron Ilett is in sparkling form and was Thunder’s highest gatherer of disposals last week.
The return of other senior players is sure to see the Thunder bounce back in a way Territory pride demands.
“The focus has just been about getting us prepared to take on Southport this week,” Hodges said, “Just making sure that we learn from the errors from the Sydney game and we don’t make them again this week.”
Saturday 29 July
NEAFL Round 18: NT Thunder vs Southport Sharks – 3:00pm. TIO Stadium, Darwin
Curtain-raiser: Final game of the women’s Lightning Series with the AFLNT State Academy Red vs Blue teams – 11am.
Adelaide Crows AFLW coach Bec Goddard will be present to observe.