by Murray Silby
NT Thunder has found reward for effort and joy for perseverance in the red sands of Alice Springs, kicking four goals to two in the final quarter of its Round 17 clash with Redland, to win by seven points, 18.9 (117) to 16.14 (110).
Searching for only its second win of the season and simply respect after a 145-point thumping at the hands of Canberra last weekend, Thunder went into the final quarter on Saturday night three points down on the Bombers.
It took only 40 seconds of the final stanza though for Thunder to hit the lead.
That important major came from the boot of Trent Melville, who climbed high to mark before kicking truly from the resulting set shot.
Another three goals would follow for Thunder before Redland could get its first of the final quarter on the board.
Central Australian Nigel Lockyer got his chance to kick his fourth for the game and took it after a spectacular mark from the incoming kick by another Central Australian, and debutant, Tyson Woods.
Chris Williams scored on the run from long range and Abraham Ankers dribbled one through from a few metres out to put Thunder 20 points up after just 10 minutes.
Redland had to wait until the 21st minute to kick its first goal and that went to the league’s leading goal-kicker Matt Hammelmann – his fifth for the night.
Clay Cameron’s fourth a couple of minutes before the siren wasn’t enough to bridge the margin and Thunder’s celebrations were able to begin.
“I just said to them afterwards, where we want to go as a footy club, you have moments in your footy career I reckon that you remember or games that you remember for certain reasons,” Thunder coach Darren Reeves said.
“You don’t remember everything. I reckon tonight’s one of those that the guys will remember for what they went through last week to have a win tonight. They’ll remember that forever and hopefully for us as a footy club that’ll be the springboard for us to get to where we want to go.”
Reeves said the squad had shown great resilience during the week to remain positive after the embarrassment of the Canberra game.
“There was genuine disappointment and frustration and hurt, but we rocked up to training Monday night and Wednesday night and the boys had smiles on their faces and they just worked their backsides off as they’ve done for a long time,” he said.
“A young group. It would have been easy to just go into their shells and not do that and give up the ghost, but they didn’t and they get some reward for effort tonight so that’s the most pleasing thing out of the lot.”
At one stage of the first term, it looked as though Redland, which itself has just the two victories this year and sits one place above their last-placed host, was going to perform a similar number on Thunder as a few other opposition teams this season.
Three successive goals during the mid-stages of the quarter looked ominous, but Thunder managed four goals of its own and it was the Central Australians such as Lockyer and Ankers with a goal apiece and ruckman Jack Hannath, along with forward Trent Melville, who kept the Territorians within 14 points at the first break.
Even debutant Woods, from the Yuendumu community west of Alice Springs, got involved for a goal assist to Melville, but perhaps the greatest achievement for the home side was holding Hammelmann to the single major during the term.
A formidable opponent in recent seasons, Hammelmann had kicked 13 goals in his two games against Thunder this season.
With Josiah Farrer limiting the big forward’s effectiveness, Thunder set about hauling the Bombers in.
With that aim in mind, Chris Williams started the second quarter perfectly, kicking truly from a set shot after only a couple of minutes, but just before the eighth minute mark, Hammelmann chipped in with his second of the game after Farrer was called for deliberately running the ball out after being unable to find reverse while careering towards the boundary line.
Lockyer’s second after following up his kick forward was followed by Cohen Thiele adding another on the run and suddenly Thunder was within three points of Redland and playing with the type of momentum that rolls a side to victory.
A miss by Hammelmann from directly in front suggested just as much and when Brandon Rusca was given a 50-metre penalty he had the perfect opportunity to put Thunder in front by two points.
Instead, his shot went through for a behind and, as often happens in such circumstances, the Bombers capitalised a few minutes later.
Redland notched up the next three goals, including Matt Thomson’s third and fourth goals of the game and Darcy Marsh’s second.
Not to be deterred though, Kieran Delahunty and Ankers hit back with two for Thunder to close the gap back down to just nine points.
Unfortunately for Thunder though, Hammelmann wouldn’t be denied and his third, kicked after the siren, stretched the Bombers’ lead to 15 points at half-time, meaning for all Thunder’s hard work, it was trailing by one more point than at the first change.
The positive, however, was that it had shown that it could threaten Redland’s lead and had the potential to overtake it.
And, after kicking the first three goals of the third term, Thunder had. Some Malcolm Rosas brilliance helped him to a couple of goals and Nigel Lockyer’s third of the match, a huge bomb from 60 metres, had the home crowd out of their seats.
When Thunder finally took the lead after Rosas’ second seven minutes into the third quarter it was the first time it had led in the entire game.
It would be the first of four lead changes in the term though.
A bad miss by Clay Cameron from close in was corrected by the man himself a few minutes later to wrestle the lead back for the Bombers by four points.
A 50-metre ball burster by Nate Paredes then handed Thunder the lead again before Hammelmann showed he could do the same.
Cameron kicked another to take the Bombers’ lead out to 10 points, although that was narrowed to only three by three-quarter-time.
Normally, if an opposition forward took home a five-goal haul against your side it might be considered a failure, but given Hammelmann has kicked a couple of bags of nine against Thunder in the past two seasons, Saturday’s result was a good one.
Giving away 12 centimetres in height on the former Brisbane Lions forward, Josiah Farrer was given the tough task of limiting the damage.
He was ably assisted in the back half by Damian Williams and Ben Rioli, who went to Thomson and stopped him from adding to his four first-half goals in the second half.
“We threw it up,” Reeves said. “(Matt) Hammelmann’s obviously hurt us and he’s hurt us in different ways like size and speed and we haven’t really got anyone who could go with him in terms of speed except for Josiah Farrer and while undersized, his speed is awesome and Damian Williams, we know how talented he is and we just felt he’s been a little bit lost forward and a couple of times in games he’s gone back for a couple of minutes just to give a rotation and looked really solid and I thought he was outstanding tonight at centre-half-back, particularly in the last quarter.
Standing out as the best player on the field though was captain Ankers with an amazing 43 disposals, including 27 kicks, 16 handballs, six inside 50s and three goals.
“Ankers, mate, outstanding,” Reeves said. “Had 43 disposals, kicked three goals. That’s a hell of a game of footy.
“Probably from halfway through the first quarter I thought our midfield was excellent. (Nate) Paredes, (Jacob) Templeton, (Cohen) Thiele were all excellent.
“Then, probably not so noticeable, but Hayden Bertoli-Simmonds was hurting us, getting a heap of the ball playing across half-back so we sent Brodie Carroll to him in the second half, just to play a defensive role, and he (Bertoli-Simmonds) had less impact in the game and that was really important for us as well.”
Thunder’s struggled to find a reliable target up forward this season in the absence of retired champion full-forward Darren Ewing, who’s left some big shoes to fill, but Lockyer’s shown that he might be the one to try the shoes on.
At 190 centimetres he has some height, he’s made some contributions to the marking highlight reel this season and his four goals straight on Saturday night shows he has the accuracy.
“He’s a serious talent,” Reeves suggested. “There’s genuine interest in him. He’s got an x-factor about him. He can do magical things. We’ve thrown him around. Tried him back, but I think he’s going to be a forward and we look a better side when he’s up there as well.”
Another Territory talent, who scouts are showing some interest in, is Rosas and his spectacular contributions against Redland won’t have dulled any of that chatter.
“He’s a serious talent too. If he works out the work ethic required he could be anything,” Reeves added.
The coach also mentioned Woods, in his first Thunder game playing in front of family and friends, had shown enough to suggest he has a future at the NEAFL level.
“I told the guys, never for one moment did I lose faith in the group,” Reeves said.
“They’ve worked really hard, doing extra weight sessions and all that, particularly the young group, and you’re going to get reward if you keep doing that and they get a bit of that tonight and hopefully after the last three games of the season we can feel a bit more of it.”
NT THUNDER 4.1, 9.3, 14.6, 18.9 (117)
REDLAND 6.3, 11.6, 14.9, 16.14 (110)
GOALS: NT Thunder – Nigel Lockyer 4, Abraham Ankers 3, Trent Melville, Malcolm Rosas, Chris Williams 2, Jess Budarick, Kieran Delahunty, Jack Hannath, Nate Paredes, Cohen Thiele.
Redland – Matt Hammelmann 5, Clay Cameron, Matt Thomson 4, Darcy Marsh 2, Samson Ryan.
BEST: NT Thunder – Abraham Ankers, Damian Williams, Nate Paredes, Jacob Templeton, Cohen Thiele, Nigel Lockyer.
Redland – Hayden Bertoli-Simmonds, Craig Malone, Adrian Williams, Clay Cameron, Scott Miller, Bruce Reville.