by Murray Silby
The warm afterglow of victory has hung in the air around the NT Thunder squad a little longer than it usually does for a team.
Its second victory of a torrid NEAFL season came thanks to a seven-point win over Redland in Alice Springs in Round 17 and a bye followed for the team in Round 18 and so this weekend’s Round 19 will be Thunder’s first opportunity to back up its strong performance in the Red Centre.
It hosts a hungry opponent at TIO Stadium in Darwin on Saturday night though.
Sydney University currently holds down sixth place on the NEAFL ladder, a game and percentage ahead of the Canberra Demons, which is desperate to replace it in the top six and secure the last finals berth with only two matches to follow after this week’s.
The Students hold the advantage over Canberra however, after defeating the Demons last weekend, but will still have plenty of motivation to maintain that benefit when they take on Thunder.
It’s been a tough year for Thunder, with some heavy losses to deal with, but there’s been a momentum building towards the season’s twilight, albeit with a significant interruption by a rampaging Canberra in Round 16.
One of the moves that has helped lift Thunder’s prospects has been the shift of Damian Williams from the forward line to defence.
Facing some significant injury concerns, coach Darren Reeves sent the former GWS Giant to the backline and it’s helped tighten a back six that’s been under enormous pressure all season.
Williams said it’s been a while since he’s spent a lot of time in defence, but it’s not completely foreign to him and he’s enjoyed the change.
He missed the start of the season as he had plans to leave the NT for the bright lights of Brisbane, but fortunately for Thunder, sometimes plans change.
“I was planning on moving to Brisbane with uni to do accounting,” he said, “but an apprenticeship popped up here and I decided to stay with the electrical apprenticeship. My old man’s a sparkie so I thought I’d follow in his footsteps.”
Williams is one of a growing number of players emerging from Katherine, including Brodie Carroll and brothers Jess and Joel Budarick.
He said it’s great looking around the clubrooms and seeing so many players in the Thunder squad from regional areas such as Katherine and Alice Springs.
“I grew up in Katherine,” he said. “There’s a few of us floating around now.
“There’s talent everywhere. It’s just a matter of getting people out there and getting them on the radar and building up their knowledge about footy and developing them as well.
“I went to boarding school in Sydney for two years, did the Giants and then moved back to play with Thunder.
“It (being on the Giants’ list) was a great experience. Shaped me into the man I am today. Mentored me and taught me a lot of skills on and off the field that I use today.”
Williams said the spirit around the club has been good during the season, but the victory over Redland and the performances of the squad’s younger players, has given the whole club an extra lift.
“It’s been good. We’ve been up and about and a few of our boys, Kieren Parnell, Mally Rosas, Nigel Lockyer and one of the academy boys, Ben Jungfer, they all been selected to take part in the AFL Combine so that’s got everyone up and about as well.”
Once the mentored at an AFL club, Williams is now able to use the knowledge gained through that experience to mentor another Territorian with an AFL dream, in Rosas, as he sets about pursuing a career in the game.
“Mally and I keep in touch,” Williams said. “He comes to me for advice and I steer him in the right direction because he plays at the Darwin Buffalos as well and I’ve seen him come up through the ranks, so I’ve had a bit to do with Mally, but Kieren and Nigel have been unreal as well.
“Nigel and Kieren have been very consistent so it’s been great to see them get rewarded.”
Williams is quietly confident of Thunder achieving the afterglow of two victories in a row.
“Hopefully we can carry it on against Sydney University,” he said.
“We’ve been building on the momentum from the week before the bye and we’ve had a good week on the track to build that energy up so hopefully we can get the win against Sydney University.”
NEAFL Round 19: NT Thunder vs Sydney University – 6.30pm, Saturday 10 August August – TIO Stadium, Darwin