By Brin Duggan
Thunder were left to sit and take notes as Sydney Uni handed out a final quarter lesson at Blacktown International Sports Park in Round 10.
The Students booted eight goals in the final quarter and 10 in a row to turn a 16-point third quarter deficit into a resilient 39-point victory, 16.5 (101) to 8.14 (62).
With both sides keen to get their respective seasons on the right track, their intents were clear.
Thunder came into the match after a disappointing loss to Redland last start but were encouraged by the emergence of young guns Ethan Liddle and Joel Jeffrey who debuted in that game.
Two more debutants were to pull on the lightning bolt against the Students with Thunder academy boys, Brendan Minkulk and Beau O’Connell, running out for their first match. And it looked an inspired decision when both booted their first career goals in the first quarter.
Thunder sustained an early onslaught thanks in no small part to Nigel Lockyer who had the big job on dangerous key forward, Tristan Davies, and then got to work.
Abraham Ankers had the ball on a string, thrusting his side forward and earning himself some close attention at stoppages. Then Ben Taylor snapped truly for his first major, adding to goals from Adam Tipungwuti and those to Minkulk and O’Connell, and Thunder took a lead which they would carry into quarter time by one point.
A free flowing, eight goal first quarter belied to stalemate ensuing in the second. Both sides would drive themselves forward from half back, putting the ball out in front of their fleet footed forwards. This seemed to play into Thunder’s hands for the most part, as the dewy conditions conveyed a similar slipperiness that can be felt on a hot and humid territory day.
Thunder had the ascendency but could not convert on the scoreboard and when Nick Foster and Josh Stern goaled for the Students in quick succession Thunder needed a lift.
In stepped Ben Rioli who would not be supressed. He nullified the Students’ rebound and managed to hit the scoreboard himself, evening things up again.
When Ben Taylor popped through his second, it was back-to-back goals for Thunder and a three-point half time lead.
A lead into the long break carried with it discussion about how Thunder have not beaten Sydney Uni since the 2015 elimination final and have never won at Blacktown, hoping to inspire a resounding victory.
Thunder came out strong in the third and dominated the play once again. Daniel Weetra was a pillar in defence, cutting off Student forward forays at will and Brodie Carroll was keeping the Students’ NEAFL star, Jack Hiscox, ineffectual.
A second major to Tipungwuti by way of a brilliant two bounce solo effort was followed by a Kieran Delahunty goal giving Thunder a 15-point lead 10 minutes into the third quarter.
But two late goals to Sydney Uni, including a third to forward Nick Foster, meant Thunder carried just a six-point lead into the final break.
Then, class was in session. The Students had their first within a minute thanks to a second miraculous snap from Josh Stern and, despite the continual resilience of Joe Anderson, Weetra and Lockyer in the back half, the flood gates opened.
Sydney Uni half-back Adam Gulden had the ball on a string and set up countless forward fifty entries for the Students. And it seemed the harder Thunder pushed forward, the more Gulden and the Students pushed back.
Stern booted another three in the final quarter, taking his tally to five, and Tom Banuelos added two of his own contributing to a Students outfit that kicked 10 unanswered goals to consign Thunder to a 39-point loss and a 1-9 record leading into a sorely needed bye.
Despite the loss, Thunder coach Darren Reeves was encouraged by the performance of his side which had two late call-up debutants playing, and suffered a number of injuries throughout. “We won the first three quarters on the scoreboard, so it’s frustrating, the last quarter but in the end we just ran out of troops,” Reeves said
He was thrilled with the performances of Nigel Lockyer and Brodie Carroll in their individual lock-down roles, “He (Lockyer) was outstanding and Brodie Carroll’s role on Hiscox was outstanding as well. I know Hiscox had no influence on the game”.
“Little things like that are really important. I thought Abe Ankers was outstanding, I thought Kieren Parnell was outstanding. We didn’t have a passenger in the first three quarters and in the end we had one more scoring shot and 13 more inside 50’s, so we had our opportunities,” he said.
“But in the end we got beaten around the footy in the last quarter. We got beaten around the stoppages, beaten around the contest and they were able to get momentum and put it on the scoreboard,” he added.
Looking ahead, Reeves said the bye is coming at a good time, “our guys are going to have a week off and refresh. A lot of the guys play year-in, year-out and it’s a good opportunity just to get away from footy and refresh mentally more than anything and be ready to go after the bye.”
NT Thunder 4.4, 6.6, 8.10, 8.14 (62)
Sydney University 4.3, 6.3, 8.4, 16.5 (101)
NT Thunder – Adam Tipungwuti, Ben Taylor 2, Beau O’Connell, Ben Rioli, Brendan Minkulk, Kieran Delahunty.
Sydney University – Josh Stern 5, Nick Foster 3, Darcy Cordell, Tom Banuelos 2, Bailey Stewart, Cam Williams, Tristan Davies, Will Sierakowski.
NT Thunder – Nigel Lockyer, Brodie Carroll, Abraham Ankers, Kieren Parnell, Ben Rioli.
Sydney University – Adam Gulden, Jake Bartholomaeus, Josh Stern, Bailey Stewart, Lewis Stevenson.