By Murray Silby
The Round 13 NEAFL game between NT Thunder and Southport Sharks in Alice Springs on Saturday will see a clash between two teams of vastly contrasting fortunes of late.
Thunder is riding high after thrashing Canberra by 91 points in the capital last Saturday while the Sharks will be trying to make a remarkable turnaround from the 150-point loss to Brisbane on the same day.
In Thunder’s match, its champion full-forward Darren Ewing booted 10 goals to pass the 700-goal milestone for his club and stalwart Central Australian product Matt Rosier passed the 100 NEAFL-games milestone.
In the Shark’s match, in kicking just four goals over the four quarters, the team collectively kicked one less than Brisbane’s leading goal-kicker Josh Schache and with only two goal-scorers they sadly lagged behind the Lions’ 13.
“Yes, after the game on the weekend, obviously, there was a good feeling around the group,” Thunder coach Andrew Hodges said.
“They were pretty excited, they wanted “Boof” to make his milestone of 700 goals, which is a massive achievement and pretty important for the footy club.
“For Matt Rosier to hit 100 NEAFL games (119 Thunder games) and to go through what he has been through with all the travel and all those types of things from Alice Springs, and young Abe Ankers is going through that now, Rosie is really respected among the group and much loved and to get a big win like that was pretty special and important to the footy club.”
A straight look at the scoreline from Southport’s heavy defeat to Brisbane doesn’t give the full picture of the game.
The Sharks lost both rising star nominee Cody Filewood (knee) and defender Nick Crowley (ribs) before half-time and Brady Egan (concussion) and Andrew Boston (ankle) by three-quarter-time.
That left the Sharks without a bench against a team of 22 AFL-listed players.
Hodges said there isn’t any chance of complacency by his fourth-placed side against the struggling ninth-placed Southport.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “We know Southport is pretty hungry. Brisbane is a very good side and they’re going to be pretty hungry to bounce back this week against us in Alice Springs and they’ve got a pretty good record against us.
“We won’t take any game lightly, obviously there’s a massive opportunity in the second half of the season to get ourselves in line to play finals.
Apart from Ewing last week, Thunder also unveiled another exciting forward talent in Francis Kinthari, who contributed three goals in his first game for the club.
The return, last week, of Captain Shannon Rioli and veteran Cameron Ilett to the line-up also made a massive difference for Thunder.
One of the biggest challenges for Hodges and his assistant coaches will be predicting what team the Sharks will field given their injury concerns.
Andrew Boston has been one of their best this season and would be greatly missed if his ankle prevents him playing.
The Sharks’ former Collingwood and Fremantle defender Jack Anthony had an interesting tussle with Ewing in the two sides’ Round 8 match earlier in the year with the gun forward held goal-less despite his side winning by 42 points.
In Jordan Keras Southport also has one of the league’s leading clearance players.
The match will be the one chance Central Australians get to watch their Thunder team run out on Traegar Park this NEAFL season and Hodges said the players are excited about the occasion.
“The leadership group and the playing group are pretty motivated to ensure that this weekend is a success,” Hodges said.
“We’re looking forward to playing in front of our home crowd in Alice Springs and we’re hoping to get a big crowd to support us.
“We love seeing the Alice Springs supporters every year and always enjoy our games there.
“Some of the Darwin-based players are also going down early to conduct clinics in the schools.
“Our team represents the entire Territory and we can’t wait to play at Traeger Park,” Hodges said.
Saturday 24 June
Curtain raiser Territory Women’s Challenge: Pinktails vs Darwin – 12pm TIO Traeger Park, Alice Springs
NEAFL Round 13: NT Thunder vs Southport Sharks – Saturday 4.30pm, TIO Traeger Park, Alice Springs