By Murray Silby
This week’s Round 5 VFL W match at TIO Stadium on Saturday afternoon will pit the undefeated NT Thunder women, who are aiming for their fourth successive win, against a Western Bulldogs team that is yet to win a match this season.
The Bulldogs won the AFLW premiership in 2018 and their full squad includes 20 AFLW players, including superstar captain Katie Brennan, vice-captain Ellie Blackburn and premiership best on ground Monique Conti.
Conti was one of a record five NAB rising star nominees for the Bulldogs in 2018. The others were Libby Birch, Bonnie Toogood, Aisling Utri and Naomi Ferres, all of which are in the Bulldogs’ squad.
The AFLW’s leading goal-kicker for 2018, Brooke Lochland, played her first game for the Bulldogs’ VFL W side against Collingwood last weekend, and the Bulldogs’ AFLW premiership coach, Paul Groves, is an assistant to VFL W coach Debbie Lee.
All that talent and experience hasn’t translated to wins so far though with the Bulldogs losing to Richmond, Carlton and Collingwood in their three matches so far and leaves them sitting last on the ladder.
In contrast, Thunder has won each of its three matches and is in third place on the ladder.
Thunder’s last start win was against Melbourne University, in Melbourne, was by 69 points.
Sue Nalder was one of the stronger contributors in that match.
Looking like a veteran rather than a debutant at the VFL W level, Nalder booted two goals and generally caused a nuisance of herself for the opposition in Thunder’s forward 50.
Dubbed “Sneaky” by her team-mates, Nalder was praised by coach Tim Weatherald for the way she approached the match.
“The nickname is ‘Sneaky’,” she admitted. “It’s definitely sticking at the moment. I picked that up with Waratah and then it just seemed to stick really well with the Thunder girls. They liked to use that on the weekend.
“If I can sneak around a little bit more I’ll be happy with that.”
VFL W is the highest level Nalder has played at so far in her career and she’s been left hoping for more.
“It was my first game for the season so I was pretty excited about it. I came off the bench on Saturday and rotated through the flank and the pocket,” she said.
“I’m just really excited for the opportunity to play under Tim, he’s been a fantastic coach. He has really simple, but effective structures for us, which has been really good. Just to be playing with the Adelaide girls, Alice girls and Darwin girls. When we all come together it all just seems to work so it’s always a good time and we play some good footy together.
“The support from the AFLW girls has been awesome and to have the opportunity to run out on the field with players like Angela Foley, Chelsea Randall, Marijana Rajcic, Sally Riley and Jessica Sedunary is one I will treasure for a long time,” she said.
Nalder is hopeful her performance against Melbourne University will be enough to earn her selection for her first home game this weekend.
“It always feels like a second family up here,” she said. “I’m from Victoria originally and all the family’s back home in Victoria and it was great because I had some family members come along and watch on the weekend, but you’ve got your Waratah family and all your mates coming around, like your second family, to watch and to have them there and to be able to share that experience with them is fantastic.
“I know the girls loved it when we played at TIO Stadium in Round 3 and to get that crowd behind you, and we had a fantastic crowd, the atmosphere, just to play on your home ground and be able to play in Darwin is great. So we’re really looking forward to the opportunity again this week.”
Despite the Bulldogs’ lack of wins so far this season, Nalder says Thunder won’t be taking them lightly.
“They haven’t won a game yet, but they’ve got some quality players on their list,” she explained. “They haven’t played many of their AFLW players yet, so it’s hard to know who’s going to travel with them.
“They’ll be a tough physical side from what I hear.”
VFL W Round 5 – NT Thunder v Western Bulldogs, Saturday 2nd of June, 4 pm, TIO Stadium, Darwin.