By Murray Silby
NT Thunder has suffered its second-straight loss to open the NEAFL season, beaten on Saturday afternoon by 84 points in Round 2 by Sydney University, 21.14 (140) to 7.15 (56).
Playing at Blacktown International Sportspark in fine, sunny conditions, Thunder errors made the gulf between the two sides larger than it might have been.
Inaccurate kicking, turnovers, 50-metre penalties, two scoreless quarters and an injury to Nick Yarran limited Thunder’s ability to counter a skilled, fit University outfit that loves to run.
Thunder was outclassed in the first term, held goal-less by the home side, supporters watched as the Students raced to a 39-point lead at quarter-time.
Sydney University’s new gun forward, Tristan Davies kicked two of his side’s six first-quarter goals, as did Bailey Stewart, while Jake Bartholomaeuse and Nick Foster each contributed one.
Any Thunder attack was falling down across half-forward and the run and carry the students have become known for was on full display.
Thunder also made Sydney University’s job a little easier by giving away two 50-metre penalties that contributed to goals and missing the only opportunities to score that came its way.
The visitors livened up in the second term though with their defensive and offensive pressure increasing.
Where Thunder’s turnovers had gifted opportunities for the Students in the first term, Thunder’s pressure started to help create chances for itself in the second.
Breadon McLean kicked the first goal for either team in the term six minutes into the second quarter, which also happened to be Thunder’s first for the game.
Sydney University hit back with the next two with Davies kicking his third and Foster his second, but then Kieran Delahunty and Trent Melville kicked two in a row for Thunder to narrow the margin to 29 points.
A late goal to Sam Fong after a 50-metre penalty gave him the easiest of shots at goal and released some of the momentum the visitors had built up.
Thunder had only reduced its quarter-time deficit by five points to 34 by half-time, but it seemed to be back in the game.
That however, was all to unravel in the third.
Another four goals to the Students and another goal-less term for Thunder saw the margin stretch out to 60 points by three-quarter-time.
Yarran’s shoulder injury, gettable misses by the visitors and 50-metre penalties at crucial times contributed to Thunder’s slide in the quarter as Stewart, Davies, Josh Stern and Foster all slipped through for Sydney University goals.
The final term saw 12 goals slotted through the big sticks, the problem for Thunder was that Sydney University kicked eight of them, including three more to Davies, who finished with seven for the day and now has 11 in just two NEAFL rounds.
The pleasing thing for Thunder supporters though, was the fight the players showed throughout the game.
Melville, Will Farrer (two) and Sam Talbot kicked majors with Talbot’s coming in the 32nd minute, to show the team never gave in.
The difference between the two sides could be put down to two related issues – possession of the ball and scoring opportunities.
The Students amassed a massive 143 more disposals than Thunder – 43 more handballs and 100 more kicks. They took 64 more marks than Thunder and had 35 scoring shots to 22. They simply had more of the football than their opponents
The Students also scored 14 of their 21 goals from marks and set shots for goal. Most, if not all, from well inside the 50 metre arc and at least six of those were from free kicks and/or 50-metre penalties.
“That’s a discipline thing there and probably getting used to a couple of these new rules as well that they’re very hot on,” Reeves said.
“You look at the scoreboard, seven goals 15 (behinds) and through the second and third quarters we felt like we had genuine momentum for long periods and every time we had that opportunity we’d miss some really kickable goals and scoreboard pressure’s the number one pressure and if you kick those goals you break their momentum and get a lift out of that as a collective.
“Unfortunately we were kicking points, they were then able to go forward and transition that into goals up the other way, so while you felt like you were chipping away and getting closer the scoreboard was getting further and further away just on the back of that.
“You turn our scoreboard around to 15 goals seven and while you’re still down on the scoreboard I reckon the momentum at different times shifts, but full credit to Sydney Uni. They were excellent in their team approach, the way they played their roles. Everyone, all around the ground and that’s where we want to get to as a footy club.
Reeves said that despite the big loss, he’s proud of the way his defensive half applied itself throughout.
“I thought Daniel Weetra, Braedon McLean, Benny Rioli and Joe Anderson were outstanding in their efforts. They continually put their bodies on the line, they continually gave us some nice football out of half-back. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to capitalise on that,” he said.
Reeves said there’ll be plenty of work put in over Thunder’s bye weekend for Easter to improve the side’s team-orientated focus.
“We’re not questioning our talent,” he emphasised. “We believe in our talent. I believe in our talent, but the talent’s nothing unless you’re prepared to play your role and have everyone collectively moving in the one direction and unfortunately at the moment we’ve got some who are and some who aren’t so we need to work that out pretty quickly.
“We’ve had some strong conversations after the game and we’d like to think we’ve turned a corner and we’ll move forward and we’ll be better. We understand we’ve got a lot of work to do though,” Reeves said.
SYDNEY UNIVERSITY 6.6, 9.8, 13.13, 21.14 (140)
NT THUNDER 0.3, 3.10, 3.13, 7.15 (56)
GOALS: Sydney University – Tristan Davies 7, Nick Foster 4, Bailey Stewart 3, Josh Stern 2, Jake Bartholomaeuse, Tim Barton, Nathan Coxall, Sam Fong, Jack Hiscox.
NT Thunder – Will Farrer, Trent Melville 2, Kieran Delahunty, Braedon McLean, Sam Talbot.
BEST: Sydney University – Jack Dimery, Adam Gulden, Jake Veale, Tristan Davies, Nick Foster, Bailey Stewart.
NT Thunder – Braedon McLean, Ben Rioli, Joe Anderson, Jack Hannath, Jacob Templeton, Abraham Ankers.