by Murray Silby
NT Thunder faces a tough task if it is to return to the winners’ circle in Round 6 on Saturday as it travels to the Gold Coast to take on Southport, the NEAFL ladder leader.
The Sharks have won four of their five games this season with Sydney University the only team to defeat them and the only club matching them for wins, but not for percentage.
Southport is way out in front with a very healthy 162.38 per cent, indicating its ability to score prolifically and reflecting a big boost from the huge 86-point victory over GWS in Round 5.
NT Thunder is clinging onto a place in the six, having slipped down the ladder with successive losses to Sydney University and Redland before last week’s bye.
The form it displayed in its opening two rounds though, when it recorded wins over reigning premier Brisbane and Aspley have given an indication of the level the squad can play at and veteran Cameron Ilett, who overturned a decision to retire at the end of last season says it’s a group of players that can go far.
“I certainly think we’ve got the right squad and it’s just a matter of the more time that we do spend together because we don’t actually do a pre-season like the other clubs,” he said.
“The more time that we travel away together, spend together, play together, train together, that understanding of how each other plays and that trust and belief amongst the group will certainly continue to grow every game.”
Ilett said it’s only a matter of weeks since members of the Thunder squad were playing against each other in the NTFL so improvement will definitely come as the season progresses.
“We’ve got a really good list of players and again our team is unique where five or six weeks ago we had guys trying to kill each other in a grand final and a couple of weeks later they’re team-mates,” he said.
Thunder coach Andrew Hodges said this week’s squad will be boosted by the return of captain Shannon Rioli and his brother Ben, as well as small forward Dion Munkara, whose run and skill were missed in Round 4 against Redland.
“The boys had a bit of a break over the bye week, but leading up to that we worked on some things we needed to work on and we were probably some cattle own in that last game, some key players we didn’t have available for that game (Redland) and we’re looking forward to them coming back in this week and getting back to our best footy,” Hodges said.
“The Rioli brothers, Dion Munkara, those guys are all up for selection this week, which is pleasing so we’ll try and put the best side out we can this week to take on Southport.”
There’ll be one forced change with the suspension of backman Jack Long.
Hodges said Southport is set to be a big challenge for the visiting Thunder.
“Every game is difficult, but when you’ve got an away game it’s obviously that little bit harder so we’re going to have to bring our best this week to be competitive with Southport and hopefully come away with a win,” he said.
The return of Shannon Rioli in the centre of the ground is a timely boost given the current form of Southport’s on-ball division.
Southport midfielder and former Brisbane Lion Josh Clayton attracted a perfect 10 votes in the NEAFL MVP Award thanks to a best-on-ground display against GWS on Saturday.
He gathered 35 disposals, six clearances and a goal during the game.
Meanwhile, teammate Andrew Boston regained the lead in the MVP thanks to receiving eight votes for his performance, which included 34 disposals and 11 clearances.
Ilett said Thunder played well against Sydney University, especially given it lost two players during the match, and some lapses of concentration cost it heavily during the Redland game, but he suggests an increase in collective pressure against Southport can bring a positive result.
“It comes down, for me, to lapses in concentration, that focus on each contest and playing your role and when you get opportunities, to nail those opportunities,” he said.
“The old cliché, getting that effort right for the whole four quarters and if we do that then we’ll be more than competitive against Southport.”
NEAFL Round 6: Southport Sharks vs NT Thunder– Saturday 12:00pm, Fankhauser Reserve, Southport