By Murray Silby
The evidence suggests that if NT Thunder can keep gun Redland forward Matt Hammelmann to seven goals or less, then it will win the two teams’ Round 19 clash at TIO Stadium on Saturday night.
It may seem like an odd claim to make, after all, seven goals are quite a few for one player to kick in a game, but such has been Hammelmann’s enjoyment of his side’s two meetings with Thunder this season that he’s booted 15 in total over the two clashes.
That’s included nine in Round 4 and six in Round 14. Thunder lost the Round 4 game by 35 points and won the Round 14 game by 12 points.
“He’s just a powerhouse forward; he’s a really good forward and we’ve just got to figure out a way to cut him out of the game,” Thunder utility Sam Talbot said.
“He’s one of their key forwards so we’d have one of our key backs, whether it’s Tommy Davies or Sam Dyke, to get the job on him and even if it’s (the rest of us) giving one of those boys a hand to try and stop him.”
Concentrating solely on Hammelmann would be oversimplifying the Redland threat though.
He leads the NEAFL goal-kicking with 55 so far this season, but in fifth place is team-mate Jackson Paine with 29.
Known as a big key forward, Paine seems to have transformed himself into a midfielder in recent weeks.
In last week’s 67-point loss to Sydney University Paine recorded a remarkable 38 disposals and that personal career record broke the record of 31 he set the week before.
Hammelmann has been listed by AFL Media as one of the league’s best AFL draft prospects. Another is Thunder vice-captain, Abraham Ankers.
AFL Media rightly points out that Ankers’ play has gone to a new level this season.
In two matches he’s gathered 26 contested possessions and is third overall in the competition for that stat.
Ankers’ love for the contested ball will be a key against the Bombers this weekend.
Thunder’s five-time league-leading goal-kicker Darren Ewing will also be vital to Thunder’s chances. He’s in second place on the goal-kicking table with 43 goals, but delivery to him this season hasn’t been the best, and a wider spread of goal-kickers would also improve his side’s chance of victory in the remaining three games of the season.
The Thunder – Redland game offers some challenges for the marketing department too. Ninth (Thunder) against 10th, or last, on the NEAFL ladder, but Talbot says for Thunder fans there’s plenty of reasons to turn out.
“Obviously it hasn’t been the season that we would have liked,” Talbot suggested. “We haven’t really played our best footy this year to be brutally honest.
“It does give us the opportunity to play some young kids towards the end of the year and give them the best opportunity of getting drafted as well.
“Also to earn back a little bit of respect between ourselves and the competition as well. I think the last couple of games have shown that, but we just haven’t been able to string four quarters together for most of the year.
“The last few weeks we’ve improved a lot though.”
A veteran of the 2015 Thunder premiership team, Talbot says the current squad has the makings of a great team in the future.
“I think so if we can manage to keep everyone around. I know it’s quite difficult and we’ve got young players who are hoping to be drafted at the end of the year,” he said.
“If we can keep a consistent team together without having too many changes in between with injuries and players being unavailable and that sort of thing, definitely in the future we could work towards that again.
“Obviously we’ve got a few blokes who have been there already and have got the experience, it’s just about handing that down to the younger blokes and really trying to make it.”
That’s for future days though. For the remainder of the 2018 season, Talbot said the priority is simple.
“From a team perspective we just want to get some respect back from the league,” he said. “They’ll try and get stuck into us while we’re down and it’s just a matter of trying to weather the storm and have a bit of confidence in ourselves and play that Territory footy we know we can play.”
NEAFL Round 19: NT Thunder v Redland – 6:30pm Saturday 11 August, TIO Stadium, Darwin