by Murray Silby
An 11 goals to two first-half has helped lift reigning premier Southport to a 64-point victory over NT Thunder in Round 20 of the NEAFL competition, 20.20 (140) to 11.10(76).
Playing its final NEAFL game of the season on its home ground at TIO Stadium in Darwin on Saturday night, Thunder found itself down by 58 points at half-time, but almost squared the ledger in the second half, only losing it by six points.
Some great work by Thunder’s defence in the first quarter was repeatedly let down by turnovers in the middle of the ground.
Despite the turnovers, Thunder remained competitive for much of the term. The weight of those mistakes would eventually tell though and the Sharks skipped away to a 29-point lead with Kieran Delahunty Thunder’s only goal scorer with a banana shot from close in.
Southport didn’t let up in the second quarter either, kicking six goals to one to push the lead out to 58 points by the long break.
Ed Barlow was Thunder’s sole goal kicker in the second term, which seemed to suggest a very tough second half lay ahead for the hosts.
All indications were for another large blow out in the score in the second half, but a more composed Thunder returned to the field in the third quarter.
Better delivery around the field and into the forward half helped Thunder to five goals for the term against Southport’s six.
Barlow got Thunder off to a better start with a great snap just after three minutes. He’d kick another midway through the term, his third for the game.
Young forward Joel Jeffrey would also kick two for the quarter with Nigel Lockyer having a long shot on the run for the other.
Although the deficit expanded to 66 points by three-quarter-time, Thunder was showing better signs all over the ground.
It was managing to link up play from defence to attack with accurate handball and kicking, meaning the turnovers started to dry up.
The difference between the skill level of the third quarter to the first half quite stark.
The challenge then became for Thunder to continue that level of play into the final quarter, and it did – mostly.
It didn’t start so well with three gettable shots going astray, but then Lockyer, who’d been a little quiet for much of the game, tendered his entry for the highlights reel with a strong contested mark in the goal-square and a successful shot on goal.
Southport added the next two majors through Joshua Hall and a special by Brodie Murdoch from the boundary, but Jeffrey popped up for a clever snap and Nate Paredes added another late in the quarter.
Jeffrey, still just 17, apologetically kicked his fourth of the match very late after marking while running into the goal square.
Apologetically, as Malcolm Rosas was the supplier of the ball and it would have been his goal if Jeffrey hadn’t marked it.
A left-foot snap by Sharks captain Andrew Boston meant Thunder had only been able to reduce the margin in the final term by two points, but given the first half, and the long, arduous year as well as the opponent being the reigning premier and second-placed team, it was a credible finish to the match by the players.
Coach Darren Reeves was left lamenting another lopsided half of football, but praised his players for playing out the match considering the stage of the season.
“At half-time we were pretty measured,” Reeves said. “We just spoke about getting the little things right for each other all the time and doing the small things well and then challenged some guys and said we need to find out a bit about you and these are the moments we find out a bit about you so it’s really pleasing they responded.
“It would have been easy to give up the ghost and be beaten by a hundred points. There’s no question about that. That’s a real positive that they played it out. Absolutely.
“Again, we’re such a young group so that is a real positive, that they did just have a crack in the second half,” Reeves said.
As has been the case for much of the latter half of the season, it was some of Thunder’s younger players who put their hands up to lead the way back, among them was Jeffrey with his starring role up forward.
“He started down back and it’s been a bit of a thought process the last couple of weeks to just settle him into games down back early and just swing him forward,” Reeves said.
“I’ve liked him forward the last couple of weeks. He’s looked really dangerous obviously got plenty of class.
“I think we had four or five under 18 kids playing again tonight, all from out of the under 18s and then you’ve got Jess Budarick, who’s 19, and Kieren Parnell, who’s 20, we’ve got a very, very young group against a bunch of blokes who’ve been in the AFL system.
“It’s a real challenge for them, and big bodies. That’s the other challenge for us,” Reeves explained.
Despite the warmer glow from the second half, Reeves was still feeling the chill of the first.
“Our first half was disappointing,” he admitted. “Our ability to be able to defend and our want to play for each other for long periods of time was missing in the first half and then just on the back of that some skill errors cost us a number of goals, just because of skill errors and poor decisions, so that was disappointing.
“One of the big challenges is that we get belted in uncontested ball and that’s a willingness to defend, obviously, at different times, and we challenged them to break even or win the uncontested ball and that would translate into potentially winning the scoreboard in the last quarter and they were able to do that so that’s a positive.
“We challenged them at half-time and threw things around dramatically and tried different blokes in different areas and tried some different scenarios and set some specific goals so the second half was pleasing in that sense, particularly the last quarter,” Reeves explained.
The two players likely to battle it out for Thunder’s best and fairest, Abraham Ankers and Ben Rioli, were again amongst their side’s outstanding performers.
“Ankers was awesome,” Reeves agreed. “He had 35 disposals and just tried his guts out. I thought Benny Rioli was his usual self and I really liked Josiah Farrer’s game at full-back.
“He just did a really nice job and took the game on and won plenty of ball himself and Ed Barlow was pretty good, which is what you’d expect from someone of his professionalism and there wasn’t many more in the first half, but it was a much better collective effort in the second half.”
The result means Thunder still sits last on the ladder with just the two wins from the season and only one more chance, away to Aspley, to secure a victory that might lift it up a rung to avoid the dreaded wooden spoon.
NT THUNDER 1.2, 2.7, 7.8, 11.10 (76)
SOUTHPORT 5.9, 11.11, 17.14, 20.20 (140)
GOALS: NT Thunder – Joel Jeffrey 4, Ed Barlow 3, Nigel Lockyer 2, Nate Paredes, Will Farrer.
Southport – Mitchell Johnson 4, Ryan Davis 3, Tom Fields, Josh Hall 2, Emanuel Baru, Andrew Boston, Timakoi Bowie, Lee Dale, Jai Lyons, Michael Manteit, Brodie Murdoch, Jack O’Sheah, Matt Shaw.
BEST: NT Thunder – Abraham Ankers, Joel Jeffrey, Josiah Farrer, Ben Rioli, Ed Barlow, Nate Paredes.
Southport – Ryan Davis, Matt Shaw, Andrew Boston, Brodie Murdoch, Lee Dale, Dylan Fyfe.