by Murray Silby
Fresh from a tough 65-point opening round loss to Brisbane, NT Thunder faces another huge challenge on Saturday when it travels to New South Wales for its Round 2 NEAFL clash against Sydney University.
The Students have started well with a victory in the opening round to put it third on the ladder behind Brisbane and Southport with a healthy percentage of 178.3.
The Students, who have won the last seven encounters against NT Thunder, defeated 2018 preliminary finalist Aspley by 47 points at home with Tristan Davies (five goals) and Josh Stern (four) leading the way up forward.
Sydney Uni has had a big turnover in player personnel since it was dumped from the first round of the finals last season.
Among its losses were former Sydney Swans stars Xavier Richards, Craig Bird and Territorian Shaun Edwards.
Nine debutants took to the field last weekend, but it’s clearly recruited well and remains a force in the competition.
One of those recruits, Jake Veale, made an impression in his first game since crossing from Sturt in the SANFL with the midfielder polling the maximum 10 votes in the NEAFL MVP award.
Veale amassed 35 disposals, four clearances and six inside 50s and will be one for the Thunder midfielders to watch while Davies and Stern each attracted six votes.
Thunder’s loss sent it to the bottom of the ladder, which it’ll be keen to quickly rise from.
One of the bright lights for Thunder from the opening round was one its 2019 recruits, Trent Melville.
The forward showed why he was the NTFL’s leading goal-kicker, booting three of Thunder’s five goals against Brisbane.
“We weren’t really able to get our Territory style going. Brisbane didn’t really allow us to do that,” he said.
“I was a bit out of the game I think at times. I got a few opportunities late in the game. You’ve just got to capitalise on it. I think I did that with the limited opportunities I got, but I’m looking forward to seeing a bit more of it this week.”
Melville said he’s enjoying being in the Thunder program and expects the professionalism to improve him as a footballer.
“I’ve always wanted to play at a higher level,” he said. “This gave me an opportunity, which is flexible with work and stuff like that so I just thought I’d jump on board and give it a go.
“It’s definitely challenging. Territory footy, the weather itself throws up some challenges. Learning a new style and playing with new guys can be challenging, but I’m enjoying it and better for it.”
Given the full squad only came together on a regular basis after the NTFL season concluded, Melville expects Thunder’s performances to improve each week as the squad spends more time on the field.
“We’ve only had one half of an internal (practice game before the Brisbane game) and that is the challenge we face here so I think just more games and we’ll find ourselves playing better footy,” he explained.
He says the message from coach Darren Reeves and the coaching staff has been positive during the week.
“Just to remain positive and to keep learning,” Melville said. “It’s ok to lose occasionally, but if you’re not learning from those losses that’s when things start to go downhill so we’ve just got to continue to learn from our mistakes and continue to grow.”
NEAFL Round 2: Sydney University vs NT Thunder – 12:00pm Saturday 13 April, Blacktown International Sportspark, Sydney