by Murray Silby
Purely by the wins versus defeats figures, NT Thunder has the perfect opportunity to bounce back from last week’s loss in Round 3 of the NEAFL with a victory in Alice Springs on Saturday night.
It’s rarely that simple though.
With two wins from the first three rounds, Thunder hosts the winless Redland on the picturesque Traeger Park in the Red Centre for the two teams’ traditional ANZAC Day round clash.
A ceremony marking ANZAC Day commemorations will be held before the match and the ANZAC Round medal will be presented to the best player on the ground after the game.
Thunder will also wear its new Indigenous jumper in the match.
The Bombers are down on their luck at the moment and you need look no further than Round 3’s loss to Canberra to get a feel for why.
Redland’s 82-point loss to the Demons gave Canberra its biggest ever win in the competition, the Bombers lost their captain Hayden Bertoli-Simmonds to an ankle injury early in the game and couldn’t manage to score a goal until the second quarter.
That defeat followed losses to Sydney University (36 points) and Southport (22) in the opening two rounds and plants the Bombers on the bottom of the NEAFL ladder.
Thunder holds fourth place by percentage behind the only two sides still undefeated in the competition – Southport (first) and Sydney University (second).
Redland isn’t devoid of talent though and possesses the league’s leading goal-kicker in Matt Hammelman with 14 goals from the first three rounds.
Hammelman was one of the Bombers’ bright lights from last week’s loss to Canberra, kicking six of his side’s nine majors, including four in the final term.
Ruckman Craig Malone is also a force to be reckoned with. He dominated Canberra’s Nathan Richards and Cameron Milne with 51 hit-outs, including 17 to advantage.
Malone is the competition’s leading ruckman in terms of hit-outs to advantage with 41.
It’s unknown whether Bertoli-Simmonds will make the trip to Alice Springs with the Bombers, but Thunder has its own injury woes with playmakers Joe Anderson and Jarred Erlandson both injured in the first half against Sydney University and unable to take further part in the match.
The team fought out the game though, despite the lower rotations available to coach Andrew Hodges, and only went down to the Students by 15 points.
Thunder’s only player to poll in the NEAFL’s MVP award on Saturday was first-year player Chris Williams.
The 23-year-old utility said he’s not worried by the loss.
“We’re going fine,” he maintained. “We knew going two down early was going to be a struggle, but to the boys’ credit we hung in there and we gave ourselves a chance to snatch the game at the end. We just ran out of legs.”
Originally from Perth, Williams said he’d set selection in the Thunder squad as a goal of his and having achieved it, he doesn’t have any regrets.
“Loving it, loving it,” he said. “The boys are really good, there’s a good feeling around the club and I’m loving every second of it.”
Williams admits he hasn’t always made the right decisions in his past, but since moving to Darwin has met a good partner who has got him on the “straight and narrow”.
“Been up here for two years now,” he said. “Definitely feel I’ve found my own path to walk, so it’s been good.”
Hodges said there’s sure to be at least one change for this week’s game.
“Joe Anderson got a concussion early in the game and is going through the process of concussion protocols so he’s got to be assessed,” Hodges said.
“Jarred Erlandson also suffered a concussion as well as an injury to his hand and is having scans, so out of the two, I’d say Jarred definitely won’t be available this week and Joey is a strong chance of being available.”
He said backman Kaine Riley, who missed last week with a hamstring complaint, and Jamie Hampton, from Alice Springs, who was rested, are chances to be recalled for this weekend’s match.
Small defender Ben Rioli will also miss due to a one-week suspension for rough conduct in Round 3.
Alice Springs fans will be disappointed that Erlandson won’t be playing, but are likely to have hometown talent in Hampton, vice-captain Abraham Ankers and Matt Campbell to cheer on.
Hodges said the squad’s keen to return to the winners’ list on Saturday night.
“The guys, any time you lose a game of footy you’re extremely disappointed, and they were disappointed in some parts of their game, but there were some other parts that they did really well so we’ll just make sure we work on that this week to make sure we’re in a position to win the game,” he said.
“I’m pretty sure Redland have a good record in Alice and our record in Alice of late hasn’t been that great so we’re really motivated to turn that around and turn around last weekend’s performance into a positive one this weekend so we’re not going to take Redland lightly.”
Hodges said he doesn’t think the Bombers’ winless start to the season is necessarily reflective of the threat they pose.
“They’re a very good side and they always play well against us,” he suggested. “We’re really going to have to be on our game to get a result this weekend.”
NEAFL Round 4: NT Thunder vs Redland – Saturday 7:30pm, Traeger Park, Alice Springs
Curtain raiser games:
1:00pm CAFL Round 2
Federal vs South
2:30pm CAFL Round 2
Federal vs South
5:00pm Under 18 Academy Series
NT Thunder vs Sydney Swans