By Murray Silby
At first glance it’s the perfect opportunity for NT Thunder, which still holds hopes of appearing in this year’s NEAFL finals, to get its season back on track.
Round 14 is an away game, but that shouldn’t be a problem as it’s against the bottom side in the competition – Redland – which has just one win from 11 matches.
At second glance though, and after a quick look back through Thunder’s earlier matches, it’s clear that it may not be as simple as that.
If we rewind back to Round 4, Thunder was hosting Redland at Traeger Park in Alice Springs and at that stage of the season Thunder had two wins from three rounds – including a victory over the reigning premier Brisbane – and was rightly feeling most optimistic about the season ahead.
Redland was winless.
That Thunder lost the Round 4 match by 35 points was a bit of a shock, but the biggest surprise was the manner in which Redland won it.
Former Brisbane Lions forward Matthew Hammelmann kicked nine goals in a half of football, including seven in the third quarter to ensure a place at the top of the league’s leading goal-kicker tally. A place he still holds, with 41-goals, 10 ahead of Thunder’s Darrren Ewing, who is in third place.
The Bombers booted 10 goals to Thunder’s four in the second half of that game to set up the win and were led superbly by their other key forward Jackson Paine and small forward Aaron Christenson (both three goals), ruckman Craig Malone, defender Peter Yagmoor and onballer Jack Rolls.
A blackout, which stopped play for 12 minutes late in the third quarter, only added to the drama of the night.
Since the Redland game Thunder has only won one game – against Gold Coast – from the seven it’s played, although the Bombers haven’t done any better. They haven’t won any.
Speaking before this week’s match, Thunder winger Braedon McLean said the Round 4 result is well and truly implanted in the Thunder players’ memory banks.
“We’re definitely not going to take them lightly as we saw what they did to us earlier in the season,” McLean said. “But it is a great opportunity for the whole group to get some momentum and get a win on the board and hopefully carry on for the rest of the year.”
McLean said all involved with the Thunder squad are working hard to overcome the quarter-long fade-outs that have cost the team dearly during the season.
“Almost every week we always show at least a quarter and a bit when we’re on our game and we’re probably the best team in the competition and we’re really hard to beat, but we haven’t been able to put four quarters together. I know it sounds like a cliché, but it’s true,” McLean said.
“The numbers show it. (coach Andrew Hodges) Hodgey and the staff are doing all they can and the boys rock up to training and are doing what we can so it’s been a bit disappointing, but there’s still a window of opportunity there for us to slide into the five and hopefully play finals.”
McLean has been one of Thunder’s more consistent performers this season and said he’s loving the club’s environment despite the team’s inconsistent year.
“It’s obviously a step up from NTFL and it’s a semi-professional league and the travel’s good,” he said.
“It makes you feel a bit professional and the facilities at the Michael Long centre do that as well, but I’m really loving it. It’s a great competition and going against some AFL-listed players is always fun and you test yourself against them so I’m really enjoying it.
“I pride myself on my skills and my consistency so I think I’ve had a pretty consistent year. I think my numbers are actually up on last year so I’ve had a better year than last year.”
McLean lists his father Rod and brother Nathan as his greatest influences on his career, but he’s also had the benefit of an AFL legend in Michael “Magic” McLean in the family as well.
“The biggest influence on my career has probably been my father, but he’s always said that I move like my uncle (Michael McLean) when he used to play in the AFL,” McLean explained.
“Apparently I used to love to watch him play when I was a kid. Some of my first words were ‘kick the ball uncle’ so I obviously enjoyed watching him when I was a kid. Looking back on the old tapes and stuff I can see the similarities in my game to his and definitely looked up to my uncle growing up because he was in the AFL.
“He and my Dad (Rod) and my brother (Nathan) were big influences over my game.”
Predominantly a winger for Thunder, McLean’s versatility has meant he can be used in a variety of positions, but he’s found a niche in the backline for his NTFL side Wanderers and might increasingly find himself there in the latter stages of the NEAFL season.
“I like to base my game style around being able to play any position, which I guess is good for the team,” he said. “I think that’s what Hodgey likes about me. He can put me anywhere.
“I like playing on a wing and I’ve actually loved playing half-back the last few years at Wanderers. Hodgey started me there on the weekend so hopefully I can stay back there and cement a spot back there.“
McLean is excited by Thunder’s prospects in the remaining matches, especially with the additions of on-baller Nicholas Yarran and backman Daniel Weetra.
“You look at us on paper and you look at us individually and we’ve probably got the most talented list in the NEAFL, honestly,” he said.
“The talent’s there and the players are there and it’s great having Nick Yarran coming back from the WAFL and Daniel Weetra hopefully will be back this weekend, which is a massive in for us and hopefully those guys can help us turn this season around.
“Just with their defensive pressure and their team-first orientation it will really help us in the run home. We’ve got it all there, it’s just putting those four quarters together.”
NEAFL Round 14: Redland v NT Thunder – 1:30pm Saturday 7 July, Scottsdale Park, Victoria Point