By Murray Silby
NT Thunder has secured a hard fought 18-point victory over Redland, 17.10 (112) to 13.16 (93) in NEAFL’s Round 19 at TIO stadium on Saturday night.
In a game that had plenty of niggle and loads of lead changes, Thunder trailed by as much as 19 points during the third term but fought back to prevail for its fifth win of the season, leaving the Bombers languishing at the foot of the table with just the one victory.
A highlight of the match was also the sparkling debut of 17-year-old Malcolm Rosas for Thunder, whose skilful run and carry suggested a comfort at the NEAFL level that could one day see him seeking out higher grades.
Redland and Thunder had played each other twice before in earlier rounds this season with the honours split one apiece.
Given some life by a few of the youngsters injected into the side in the second half of the season, Thunder looked up and about early in the first quarter with both Abraham Ankers and Darren Ewing scoring inside three minutes.
Redland followed up though with the next two after Boyd Bailey, and Matt Thomson got the Bombers’ scoring underway.
Late goals to Chris Williams and a second to Ewing helped Thunder to an 11-point lead at quarter-time.
That lead was quickly cut to a one-point deficit though after four minutes of the second term and goals to Aaron Christensen and Bailey.
Quickly turning the night into his day, however, Ewing chimed in with the next two goals and his third and fourth of the half to push Thunder’s lead back out to 10 points.
Halfway through the second quarter Ewing was shooting for his fifth to take the lead out to 16 points, but the champion full forward missed what he would normally get and shortly after a flurry of Bomber goals followed.
Jai Kennealy kicked two goals, split by a Stephen Mills major on the run, and suddenly the Bombers had kicked five goals to two and turned an 11-point deficit at quarter-time into a six-point lead at the long break.
The match looked a lot like it was ebbing away from Thunder early in the second half after Thomson and Bailey each added goals to get the third quarter started, but where Thunder has often fallen away earlier in the season, the challenge seemed to fire it up this time around.
A string of four unanswered goals to Ankers, Ewing (2) and Sam Talbot allowed it to snatch a three-point lead.
Redland wasn’t finished though and wrestled a nine-point lead back after Jackson Paine and Keneally kicked the next two majors.
Deep in the third quarter however, a Ben Rioli special involving four bounces and a dummy after roving a pack between the wing and half-forward closed the margin to three points at the final change.
It took just three minutes of the final quarter for the lead to change, and that came from the boot of Jarrod Stokes, helped along by a 50-metre penalty.
The lead changed again four minutes later though when Thomson kicked his third for the game.
It would change one more time for the game, and a Williams snap was the action that forced it.
Ankers’ third extended it and Matt Campbell, who’d helped build the foundation of the win in defence helped secure it in attack with another for Thunder.
The league’s leading goal-kicker, Matt Hammelmann, kicked his 56th for the year and first for the match at the 21-minute mark of the term, but Ewing’s seventh and eighth snuffed out any late hopes the Bombers had.
Hammelmann had kicked 15 goals in the side’s two encounters earlier in the season but was well held by Sam Dyke in this clash.
Thunder coach Andrew Hodges said Dyke’s game was outstanding.
“Sam Dyke played on him all night and did an outstanding job,” Hodges said.
“He was really well supported by his team-mates right across the board, so we thought we did a pretty good job at limiting the supply and the clean ball to him.
“Our midfielders did a really good job there, and guys like Sam Smith, Joe Anderson and Tom Davies did a fantastic job of rolling off their opponents to help Dykey as much as they possibly could, but Dykey was outstanding all night, which was fantastic for him and the footy club.”
Although Thunder will finish second last on the NEAFL ladder, Hodges can see a bright future for the club in the hands of its younger talent, especially after the victory over Redland and the Rosas debut.
“I think he had a hand in both of those first two goals of the game and looked really sharp,” Hodges said.
“His first quarter was outstanding, and we moved him up the ground a bit to expose him a bit more, and he did really well, but we felt he was most comfortable playing across half-forward as a high half-forward. His leg speed up around the contest. He was just so clean at ground level, and his debut was really promising.
“He came away from the game knowing he’s got a few things to work on and he’ll do that. He’s got his head screwed on so really looking forward to seeing him over the next couple of weeks, but especially over the next 12 months.”
Hodges said the mix of experienced and younger players are combining well in the final weeks of the season.
“I’m just really pumped with our younger players and their ability to have an impact on the game, so pretty excited by that and not just them, but the senior guys and the way they’re mentoring them on-field has been really exciting for the footy club so I can’t wait to see the next couple of weeks and the next couple of years.”
The win may have come at a heavy cost for Thunder with three players reported during the match.
Joe Anderson, so important for Thunder in defence, was reported for striking Bailey in the first term, Tylah Saunders was reported for striking Ryan Dadds just after the quarter-time siren and Ben Rioli, who played one of his best games of the season, was reported for umpire interactions late in the second quarter.
Redland’s Adrian Williams was reported for head-butting Ankers during the fourth quarter.
NT Thunder: 4.3, 6.6, 11.8, 17.10 (112)
Redland: 2.4, 7.6, 11.11, 13.16 (94)
GOALS: NT Thunder – Darren Ewing 8, Abraham Ankers 3, Chris Williams 2, Matt Campbell, Ben Rioli, Jarrod Stokes, Sam Talbot.
Redland – Boyd Bailey, Jai Keneally, Matt Thomson 3, Aaron Christensen, Matt Hammelmann, Stephen Mills, Jackson Paine.
BEST: NT Thunder – Darren Ewing, Joe Anderson, Sam Smith, Richard Tambling, Ben Rioli, Abraham Ankers.
Redland – Matt Thomson, Boyd Bailey, Clay Cameron, Jai Keneally, Jack Rolls, Adrian Williams.