On Saturday night in Darwin, ten years of Territory footy history and memories were celebrated in style when 300 people gathered for the NT Thunder Team of the Decade Gala Ball.
The night culminated in the naming of the best 23 players to have represented the club, with fearless leader and award magnet, Cameron Ilett kept waiting to the end to be bestowed with captaincy honours.
Ilett is one of only two players to have played all 10 seasons (the other, Darren Ewing) and was captain in the team’s 2011 premiership year. While 2015 NT Thunder premiership captain, Aaron Motlop was inducted into the team as a midfielder and named as his vice-captain.
Thunder’s longest-serving coach over the past 10 seasons, Xavier Clarke was a popular choice to sit at the helm as the Team of the Decade Head Coach, with his win-loss record marginally better than Thunder’s first premiership coach, Murray Davis who was rightfully named as assistant coach.
From the 215 players up for selection, the star-studded team includes 22 NT Thunder premiership winners, with Central Australia’s Abraham Ankers the only player yet to lift the trophy with the club and named in the team as an interchange player.
Ankers is joined by a robust Alice Springs contingent of four, with Charlie Maher, Matthew Rosier and Kenrick Tyrrell also selected in the final 23.
The team has a nicely-spread Territory flavour with Lajamanu’s Liam Patrick named at centre half forward, alongside half forward Ross Tungatalum, the magician from the Tiwi Islands and Richard Tambling representing Jabiru and Katherine as an interchange inductee.
There was little surprise when NT Thunder and the NEAFL’s most prolific goal kicker, Darren ‘Boof’ Ewing was named at full forward, and again when Chris Dunne who has not played at Thunder since the 2015 premiership year but is still the third-highest NEAFL goal scorer on record, was named at half forward.
Two sets of brothers made the team; Cameron and Jarred Ilett along with Ben and Shannon Rioli and all four of the clubs’ captains over the 10 years; Jarred Ilett, Cameron Ilett, Aaron Motlop and Shannon Rioli were duly recognised.
Five players on the list came back to Thunder with experience playing at the elite level; with AFL Northern Territory (AFLNT) Team of the Century captain Andrew McLeod joined in Thunder’s ultimate dream team from the past 10 years by fellow-AFL experienced players; Jason Roe, Shannon Rusca, Patrick and Tambling.
AFLNT CEO and inaugural NT Thunder CEO Stuart Totham said arriving at the final team took some work but the night was a great success.
“It was a fantastic night with lots of old faces and stories helping us reminisce on some of the early days, but it was also great to see some of the modern-day players come and get an appreciation from what the club started from.
“The selection committee of eight people had the unenviable task of selecting the best team of the past decade and all selectors were people who have been around the club since its inception and seen it grow. I was part of the group, and I assure you it was a difficult task to land at the final 23 players we inducted into the history books tonight.
“There was some healthy debate along the way but we landed on top-quality players in the team with fantastic stories about how they came to play for Thunder. They’re also all players who have made a significant contribution to the Club, for which we are extremely grateful.
“The ten-year milestone is a fantastic achievement and recognition of how far we’ve come. There are many people who are responsible for that, and it goes back to Michael Long, Tony Frawley and the AFLNT board at the time, who all had the foresight and the determination to get the team up and running. Then you have a crew of administration staff, volunteers, sponsors and members that have supported the club over the last 10 seasons, through the ups and downs that went with it. And most importantly we have the players, without the players there is no club so a big thank you to the 240 plus players who have contributed to our story so far.”
NT Thunder Team of the Decade 2009 – 2018
B: Ben Rioli, Jason Roe, Justin Beugelaar
HB:Shannon Rusca, Julian Lockwood, Andrew McLeod
C: Shannon Rioli, Jarred Ilett, Aaron Motlop (vc)
HF:Ross Tungatalum, Liam Patrick, Chris Dunne
F:Charlie Maher, Darren Ewing, Kenrick Tyrrell
FOLL:Ryan Smith, Jake Dignan, Cameron Ilett (c)
INT:Neil Vea Vea, Daniel Weetra, Matthew Rosier, Richard Tambling, Abraham Ankers
HEAD COACH: Xavier Clarke
ASSISTANT COACH: Murray Davis
Full player bios will be available to view at: https://www.ntthunder.com.au/team-of-the-decade/
For information on the top 30 contenders see here.
To see who made up the eight-member selection committee see here.