by Murray Silby
On the face of it, fourth place on the ladder versus equal last could be a challenge for the marketers to sell, but when the lower of the two is Greater Western Sydney’s NEAFL side, then there’s plenty of reason to attend TIO Stadium in Darwin on Saturday night.
After two successive losses, two straight wins has NT Thunder back on track and a third in a row against last year’s premiers, the Giants, in it’s Indigenous Round clash will mean they’re officially on a roll.
Thunder is one of three teams, Aspley and Canberra being the others, on 16 points, but a superior percentage has it ahead of those two and in fourth place on the NEAFL ladder.
In contrast, the Giants are one of three teams with just the single victory after eight games and would be last on the ladder, behind Redland and Southport, if not for its better percentage.
The Giants are an AFL club though and their combined AFL-NEAFL list is thought to be one of the best in the country, if not the best.
In a preview of the 2017 AFL season, commentator Garry Lyon told Melbourne sports radio station SEN the NEAFL would see some of the nation’s best football talent playing in Giants colours each week.
“They’re an awesome list when you look at it and I think the rapid development of these kids is a surprise to no-one,” Lyon told SEN.
“When a Carlton, or a Melbourne, or a St Kilda get a (Paddy) McCartin, (Jack) Billings or a (Christian) Petracca you get so excited when you see this rate of development.
“They have 30 of them, so whatever side you barrack for, think of your best kid, your out and out best kid, they have 30 of them. Half of them won’t be getting a game, they will be running around in the NEAFL,” he said.
But more of them than expected have been getting a game for the Giants’ AFL side due to a massive injury list at the club.
During the week, GWS had listed on its website that it had seven long-term injury concerns and 13 in total that would be unlikely to play for the AFL side this week.
That toll has been a drag on the NEAFL team, which has lost players after being promoted to the senior team, but Thunder coach Andrew Hodges says nobody should ever underestimate the Giants.
“They’ve had a slow start to the season, they’ve had some injuries to their senior side, but they’re an AFL side, they’ve got professional athletes training day-in-day-out so it’s always a tough challenge when you come up against the AFL sides so I don’t expect this to be any different this weekend,” he said.
Thunder, on the other hand, is hoping to have a full list to pick from for the clash at TIO Stadium.
“Our side is coming along really well, we’ve got some injuries we need to assess, but there’s nothing too serious there,” Hodges said. “Hopefully we’ll have a full list to pick from this week.”
Hodges must surely enjoy pencilling in young forward Adam Sambono’s name each week, but this week will be an exception given the young star is joining the AFL Allies team in Melbourne.
In his first NEAFL season, Sambono sits atop the goal-kicking leaderboard with 26, five ahead of teammate Darren Ewing, a three-time winner of the league’s goal-kicking.
He’s also second on the NEAFL’s MVP award, four behind the leader Matthew Payne, from Aspley, and five ahead of team-mate Cameron Ilett, who is in fourth place.
But Sambono isn’t the only reason Thunder has been able to notch up some wins in succession. A look at last week’s MVP votes gives an indication why, with a good spread across the team.
Ilett led the voting of either team and was given the maximum 10 votes for his contribution all over the field, Sambono got four for his five goals, Daniel Weetra four for his work in defence, Ryan Smith three for his ruck work and onballer Abraham Ankers two for his efforts around the stoppages.
Meanwhile, last week the Giants fielded just eight AFL-listed players, but those eight put in pretty handy performances.
The best were Matt Kennedy with 37 disposals and eight inside 50s and Zack Sproule with 34 possessions and two goals.
Then there are the Giants academy players who can also hurt an opposition side. Last week Rhys Pollock kicked five goals to be the leading goal scorer of the match.
Away from the intrigue of what side the Giants will bring to Darwin, Thunder will be hoping to consolidate its place in the top four on the ladder so it can push for higher honours.
“It was good to get the win last weekend and obviously we want to build a bit of momentum off the back of some good games that we’ve played the last couple of weeks so this week’s game is really important,” Hodges added.
To underline the strength of the Giants’ list, even with a huge number of their players injured, in Round 8 of the NEAFL they only lost to third-placed Brisbane by one point so Thunder will need to arrive at TIO Stadium on Saturday night ready to play if it is to get the win.
Saturday 27 May
Curtain raiser AFLNT State Academy Women: NT State Academy Red vs NT State Academy Blue – 4 pm TIO Stadium, Darwin
NEAFL Round 9 (Indigenous Round): NT Thunder vs Greater Western Sydney – 6.30 pm TIO Stadium, Darwin