By Murray Silby
The challenges only get bigger for NT Thunder this weekend when they travel to Queensland to take on Southport in Round 13 of the NEAFL.
Backing up from a loss to Aspley in Alice Springs last weekend, Thunder takes to the air to see if they can become only the third team to defeat the Sharks this season.
At first glance, Southport’s record of eight wins and just two losses is an imposing record.
It’s a record that has the club second on the ladder behind the undefeated Brisbane.
It’s a record Thunder, which sits last on the ladder with just the single win and nine losses, should fear.
Dig a little deeper however, and there are signs the reigning premier can be vulnerable.
The Sharks had the bye last weekend, but the week before, in Round 11, they were beaten by Gold Coast (eighth on the ladder) by 15 points. That victory was only the Suns’ third for the season.
Southport’s other loss was to the Giants (fourth place) in Round 7 by 48 points.
After analysing the Sharks’ wins you could come to the conclusion that they represent both a strength or a vulnerability for Southport.
Five of the eight have been by 11 points or less, including their Round 6 victory over Thunder, which was one of the Territorian’s more consistent performances of the year.
Southport’s narrow wins have included by eight points over Aspley in Round 2, by six points over Canberra in Round 3, by six points over Redland in Round 8 and by 11 points over Aspley in Round 9.
The question is whether those close wins means Southport is beatable if opposition teams are able to lift just a little against it, or do they mean the Sharks are able to lift as much as they need to when challenged?
Thunder coach Darren Reeves was happy with his players’ efforts in the 52-point loss to Aspley last Saturday night, particularly given the loss of two key onballers – Brodie Carroll and Clinton Gallio – during the first half, but the team will have to be at its best to challenge the Sharks again.
Key forward Kieran Delahunty found himself in defence last weekend as Reeves was forced to juggle his side and said the disruption has brought some benefits.
“I think it’s good. We’re trying new things,” he said.
“It was good to see Nigel (Lockyer) go forward and he took a couple of nice marks and kicked a goal and just added another bow to his game and I think we’re going in the right direction.
“That’s where we’re at. We’re tackling the last weeks with a bit of confidence to try and build some momentum in the second half of the year.”
Although still working on improving the side’s consistency to prevent lapses that have seen opposition sides take control of matches, Delahunty sees some positive signs emerging from recent rounds.
“A positive is the last few weeks we’ve started quite well, which early on in the year it was our first quarters that was letting us down and we were out of the game at quarter time,” he said.
“We are finding ourselves in a position where we have been competitive and for whatever reason we don’t take our opportunities and we drop back, but we’ve been back to the drawing board this week and we’ll change a few things.
“It is a work in progress, we’re a young side and it’s going to take a little bit of time, but we’ve just got to make the most of our opportunities when we get them.”
Delahunty said the Thunder squad will take heart from its performance on Southport’s home ground earlier in the season.
“I think we’ve got to go into this week with a little bit of confidence because of how we tackled them on the road last time,” he said.
“Obviously it’s a huge challenge going to Southport, one of the ladder leaders. However, the way we played against them last time, if we can bring a similar mindset and intensity, hopefully we’ll be right in the game early on.
“Hopefully this week we’ll get Adam Tipungwuti, Jacob Templeton and Trent Melville may come into it.”
Delahunty moved to Darwin from Victoria after playing in the Wimmera Football League and taking up an opportunity to play with St Mary’s in the NTFL.
He works in commercial operations with the AFLNT and it’s his first season with Thunder and said he’s loving being part of the unique program that draws players from across the Territory.
“The challenge is unique. It is the only club that would have players coming in only a couple of weeks before the start of the season to get to know each other,” he explained.
“Early on (in the season) that created a lot of challenges not having played with each other or even met them early on, but I think the good counteract to that is a lot of blokes had had match experience, it just took a while to gel and get used to each other.
“It’s been a challenge, but I’ve certainly enjoyed it as well.”
Delahunty maintains that although Thunder is propping up the rest of the NEAFL ladder, the club is still determined to improve and claim as many wins as possible.
“We’ve still got a lot to play for and a fair few people are still trying to prove themselves at this level so everyone is certainly still putting in the work and we want to finish off the season really strongly,” he said.
NEAFL Round 13: Southport vs NT Thunder – 1.30pm AEST Saturday April 29, Fankhauser Reserve, Southport