By Murray Silby
With six games remaining for NT Thunder’s NEAFL regular season, the NT side is determined to consolidate its position in the top four on the ladder to maximize its chances in the final series.
That task continues at Darwin’s TIO Stadium on Saturday afternoon against Redland in Round 15 of the NEAFL.
Both clubs returned to winning form last Saturday – Redland after being beaten by Aspley and Thunder after its loss to Southport.
The Bombers will be feeling confident after defeating Southport by 21 points last weekend, but has so far struggled this season to be third last on the ladder with just the three wins.
In such an even season, Redland is just two wins behind sixth-placed Aspley and so can sniff an opportunity to play finals football.
Thunder is in fourth place, two wins behind third-placed Sydney University with the Sydney Swans and Brisbane Lions in first and second positions respectfully.
For those fans with a love for a high scoring goal kicker, this match will feature the league’s two leading goal-kickers in Thunder’s Darren Ewing (45) and Redland’s former Brisbane Lion Jackson Paine (35).
Both kicked five goals last weekend so the battle of the forwards will be an entertaining sideshow to the main event.
Thunder’s captain, Shannon Rioli, will be pleased to be back on home turf to play his 100th game for the club and his 99th NEAFL match. Rioli has played Redland 12 times in his career and been on the winning side 11 times.
Speaking after the victory over Southport, Redland coach Leigh Harding told the NEAFL website he still believes in the possibility of an unlikely climb up the ladder into the finals.
“You have to think about if there is a chance for us (to make finals),” he said. “We’ll just keep fronting up week-to-week and we’ll continue to educate the players.
“On the back of a disappointing loss to Aspley last week, we were able to put that behind us and come back and win, and maybe keep that door ajar for us.”
Meanwhile, Thunder was able to turn its disappointment from a week before into a driving force against GWS Giants for a victory that was only secured by the cool-headed three-game veteran Francis Kinthari with a goal after the final siren.
They were ably led by veteran on-baller Cameron Ilett, who polled five votes in the MVP award. He’s in second place, one vote behind the leader, Southport’s Jordan Keras.
Thunder coach Andrew Hodges was pleased with the way his side fought out its match against the Giants.
“Yes, very satisfying to get the win after the disappointing loss the week before,” he said.
“Our boys were pretty focused about getting back in the winners’ circle and it was important that we got that result on the weekend, but the boys are really focused on Redland this week and it’s a critical game for us at home at TIO Stadium.
“We see some signs of consistency creeping in. Obviously we haven’t been super consistent this year, but we’re doing all the right things on and off the track and it’s important that we settle our side. We had seven changes on the weekend, but the positive was that we had seven guys come in and play their role and we managed to get the win against an AFL side.
Hodges is wary of a Redland side filled will players full of confidence after last week’s match.
“This is a danger game,” he said. “There’s no such thing as an easy game in the NEAFL and there are some really good sides and Redland had a good win on the weekend and they’ll be coming to Darwin really hungry to keep their finals chances alive.
“It’s an important one for us to consolidate our position on the ladder so we’re looking forward to getting back to TIO Stadium, Hodges said.
Saturday 8 July
NEAFL Round 15: NT Thunder vs Redland Bombers – Saturday 3pm, TIO Stadium, Darwin