The NT Thunder’s VFL Women’s team will be led by a competent and fresh panel of coaches in 2019 with Head Coach Heidi Thompson enlisting familiar names for the upcoming season.
With Thompson tied up with NT Thunder Under 18 Women’s Academy duties in Coffs Harbour this weekend, senior assistant coach Rick Nolan will be in charge on Sunday.
Nolan’s success in the NT is well-documented, especially on the back of coaching St Mary’s to three NTFL Men’s Premier League titles in recent years.
Before the Saints, he also enjoyed a year coaching the Waratah women’s team to a grand final and has experience with the NT Thunder program having been involved with the men’s NEAFL side.
Thompson said Nolan had already fostered the right attitude amongst the group.
“Ricky has extensive knowledge of the Thunder program and is a huge asset to us all because he knows what it takes to build a winning culture.
“He has already formed strong bonds with the girls, and I know I will call upon him for guidance and direction throughout the 2019 VFLW season.”
After his first year at the helm of the Darwin Buffettes, seasoned player, Chris Atkinson has been tasked with the job of enhancing ThunderW’s forward line.
A first-time coach in the Thunder program, Thompson said Atkinson brought a composed demeanour to the group.
“Chris is a very knowledgeable and considered coach, who is always looking for ways to improve.
“He is a calming influence amongst the coaching group, and I am looking forward to seeing his players develop under his tutelage,” she said.
Also, a first-time NTFL women’s coach with Nightcliff in the 2018/19 season, Shannon Millar has stepped up to the senior squad this year after spending 2018 with the Academy and will oversee Thunder’s midfield group.
A recently retired football player herself, Millar also has strong netball connections having played at state representative level and coached in the Darwin Premier League competition.
Thompson explained that Millar’s professionalism was driving high standards amongst the group.
“Shannon is a real student of the game and her thirst for knowledge and bettering herself is having a positive influence on many.
“She has a great understanding of the players, which will really complement the ThunderW program this year, so I am excited to see the development of players working under her.”
2018 inaugural ThunderW player, Lauren O’Shea has also taken the step up to coaching this season and will act as the team’s defensive coach and official runner.
O’Shea, who was involved with the men’s Thunder team in seasons gone by, is a six-time premiership winning player with Waratah in the NTFL.
Thompson described O’Shea’s inclusion as invaluable.
“As a recent player in the ThunderW program, Loz understands the inner workings of the club and knows many of the players on our current list, which will come in handy.
“She will also be able to utilise some key learnings from her time with the NEAFL team to help bring about excellent outcomes in the backline this year,” she said.
With some of the NT Thunder playing group spread across Alice Springs and Adelaide, Thompson has enlisted the expertise of locals on the ground.
Rob Clarke who has been involved with NT footy over a long period will once again oversee the ThunderW training base in Alice Springs while maintaining his leadership of the Pinktails program and the successful running of the Rovers Football Club.
“Clarkey is a thoughtful coach who always has the players’ best interests in the forefront of his mind,” Thompson said.
“I look forward to continuing to build the relationship between the Darwin base and Alice Springs this season and beyond because there’s no doubt about the talent based there,” she said.
Further down the Stuart Highway, it’s AFLW premiership winning assistant coach, Narelle Smith who will take charge of Thunder’s Adelaide-based playing group.
Smith is a 130-game player in the Adelaide Footy Women’s League and has extensive coaching experience that covers the SANFLW, SA’s state women’s team and with Morphettville Park’s senior women’s team, which she steered to back-to-back Adelaide Footy League premierships.
In February 2018, Smith made history as the first woman to take the reins of a SANFL men’s team when she was appointed senior coach of Glenelg Football Club’s reserves team.
Thompson pointed to Smith’s coaching style when speaking about her traits.
“Rell is a very accomplished coach who has added an AFLW premiership to all her other achievements.
“She is an excellent communicator who knows how to make tactics and drills relatable, and is good at building relationships which will be highly beneficial given we’ll be operating from different locations.”
AFLNT High Performance Manager, Eliza Morrison will also play a significant role with the ThunderW team in 2019.
Morrison will oversee the strength and conditioning program for the group, as well as work closely with the sports doctors and physiotherapists from Territory Sportsmedicine.
She will also assist the coaches in interpreting the GPS and hydration data to get the best out of the players.
Assisting Morrison is Rachel Fox, who is back for her second season to deliver the strength and conditioning program for the women’s team.
With a background in exercise rehabilitation, Fox’s primary duty is to assist the players in preventing injury and maximising performance and is tasked with having them up and about on game day, as well as through training sessions.
AFLNT Wellbeing Coach Belinda Creer will also work with the whole group to ensure they are in good health both on and off the field.
After many years in the industry, working with elite teams as well as individuals, Creer has become one of the most trusted and reliable members of the group.
The logistics and operations side of the team will be closely managed by Helen Braam, under the guidance of Stu Davis, who assists both the men’s and women’s senior programs.
2019 is Braam’s first stint with the NT Thunder program, but Thompson said there is no doubt she will have things running smoothly.
“Helen has already proven herself to be an efficient operator and we are in good hands knowing she is running everything behind the scenes,” she said.
Thompson went on to say the team would rely heavily on Morrison, Fox and Creer.
“I have been thoroughly impressed with the expertise we have right across the board here at Thunder and believe our players are well taken care of by professionals who have theirs and the team’s best interests at heart.
“I have absolute faith in the whole coaching and support team we have this season, and I am very much looking forward to seeing what outcomes the whole group can achieve in 2019,” she said.
NT Thunder Manager Andrew Hodges echoed the same sentiment.
“It’s great for our program to have such an experienced and diverse group of coaches to lead our VFLW squad for 2019.
“They are all fantastic coaches in their own right, and their support of Head Coach Heidi Thompson ensures our playing group is in great company,” he said.