The rewards on the line for NT Thunder in this week’s final round of the NEAFL regular season are pretty clear to see.
It could be argued the four points they’ll be challenging Aspley for on the Hornets’ home turf at Graham Road in Brisbane on Saturday will be the most valuable so far this season.
A win in this Round 21 clash and the Thunder could reclaim fourth spot on the ladder from the Gold Coast Suns and with that comes a home elimination final the following weekend.
When Thunder and Aspley last met in Round 16 at TIO Stadium, Thunder survived a late fight back from the Hornets to record a 12-point win.
At the time Thunder was sitting two games ahead of the Gold Coast Suns on the NEAFL ladder, but as they prepare to do battle with Aspley again, Thunder has been leap-frogged by the Suns, who have equal points, but have claimed fourth spot thanks to a superior percentage.
The Suns’ gathering momentum as the season progressed has coincided with some inconsistent form from Thunder, but the Gold Coast side has the toughest task in the NEAFL this weekend in the top-placed Sydney Swans, so a victory for Thunder will give them every chance of stealing fourth place back should the Suns set.
Another welcome milestone for Thunder if they can beat Aspley is that it will be the first time they have defeated the Hornets three times in three matches in the same season, but coach Andrew Hodges says it’ll be no formality.
“Aspley are a really good side,” he said. “They’re going to play finals and they’re always a big challenge when we play them and I’m sure this week’s going to be no different. “
Hodges said the bye came after a hectic mid-season that tested his squad.
“Yes the bye came at a really good time,” he admitted. “We had a run of eight games and of those eight we travelled five times so the bye came at a really good time.
“It gave us an opportunity to get some injuries right and mentally prepare for the next couple of weeks.
“We think we’re really well placed after the bye. We’re pretty much injury-free and ready to take on Aspley this week away.”
In their most recent clash, key forward Gavin Grose caused the Thunder defence plenty to think about by kicking four goals for the match, including three in the final term, and Matt Payne was prolific all over the field while also kicking two goals.
Thunder’s struggled to get its best team on the field this season though with work, family and cultural commitments combining with some injury concerns to contribute selectors making several changes each week.
Hodges will be looking to his senior players, such as captain Shannon Rioli, veteran Cameron Ilett, forward Darren Ewing and defender Justin Buegelaar, to set the tone early and for the younger squad members to follow the lead.
With this, the final round counting for so much in terms of whether Thunder will get to host a final or not, the travelling NT side should have the quality to get over the Hornets.
NEAFL Round 21: Aspley Hornets vs NT Thunder – Saturday 1:30pm AEST, Graham Road, Carseldine