by Murray Silby
More controlled and focused decision-making will be a major aim for NT Thunder when it hosts Canberra in Round 6 of the NEAFL at Darwin’s TIO Stadium on Saturday night.
The fourth-placed Thunder is aiming to bounce back from its loss to the Sydney Swans last week with a win over the seventh-placed Demons.
The Swans loss was disappointing for Thunder, not only because it handed the Swans their first victory in Darwin, but also because NT coach Andrew Hodges felt fumbling and turnovers had cost his side the chance for victory.
“We’ve gone away and had an in-depth review of our performance against the Swans and have taken a few things out of the game,” he said.
“Most notably we just weren’t clean around contested situations, we’ll focus on that this week.
“Also, we turned the footy over by feet far too many times. We’ve worked towards ensuring we tidy up these areas before this weekend.”
Thunder has played some exciting football this season, especially by forcing and scoring from opposition turnovers.
It’s back six has been tight and difficult to score against, it’s onballers, led by ruckmen Neil Vea Vea and Ryan Smith and rover Shannon Rioli have matched most teams and their attack, spearheaded by the league’s leading goalkicker, Darren Ewing, and youngster Adam Sambono (second on the goalkickers’ list) are difficult for any side to hold when given good delivery.
Despite the positive signs though, NT has a two-two record, with wins over Aspley and Redland and losses to the Brisbane Lions and Sydney Swans.
Of the two losses though, Thunder might be most displeased with last week’s against Sydney.
Hodges described the loss as “a good little experience” for his young players, but he also spoke of his disappointment at his side’s tendency to fumble when not under any pressure during the game.
“Decision making was poor at times against Sydney and we need to be more efficient if we are to challenge the top sides,” he said.
“We have a young side and they tend to rush at times. We’ve worked on being more controlled and focused on our decision making this week.”
Canberra had a bye last weekend and shares a similar record as Thunder this season with two wins and two losses.
The Demons have suffered heavy losses to Southport – by 56 points – and to Aspley – 68 points, but have beaten Greater Western Sydney by 16 points and Redland by 21.
Hodges said he’s wary of the Demons despite the larger losses they’ve experienced.
“Canberra is a good side, only percentage separates us on the ladder at this stage of the season,” Hodges said.
“They are a young side that is well coached. They play a quick brand of footy, which should make for some exciting passages of play this week.
“We will really need to be on top of our game to get the win.”
Although both Thunder and the Demons have eight points, Canberra is three places behind NT on the ladder due to its inferior percentage. Aspley (fifth) and Gold Coast (sixth) also have eight points.
Another loss by Thunder could set it up for a congested battle for the lower positions in the top six come finals time rather than fighting for the prized positions that bring double chances and home finals at the top.
The top three sides, the unbeaten Sydney University (20 points), Brisbane (16) and Sydney (12) are already threatening to lock other sides out of that competition.
So, in Round 6 it might be a little too early to describe Saturday night’s match as a “must-win” game for Thunder, but it’s certainly one it won’t want to loose.
Saturday 6 May
Curtain raiser AFLNT State Academy Women: NT State Academy Red vs NT State Academy Blue – 4 pm TIO Stadium, Darwin
NEAFL Round 6: NT Thunder vs Canberra Demons – 6.30 pm TIO Stadium, Darwin