by Murray Silby
A goal after the final siren by the “Wadeye Wizard”, Francis Kinthari, has snatched a four-point victory for NT Thunder over the GWS Giants in their Round 14 NEAFL match, 15.7 (97) to 14.9 (93).
(Watch the final two minutes in the above video)
Playing as a curtain raiser to the Giants’ AFL game against Geelong at Spotless Stadium on Saturday night, Thunder had started the final quarter three points down to their hosts.
They leapt into the lead after little more than a minute of the final term when an Abraham Ankers snap put them three points up.
That stretched to 10 points after seven minutes when Davin Ferreira kicked truly from the tightest of angles on the boundary line, but as had happened in the second and third quarters when Thunder had managed to build a decent lead over the Giants, GWS came back at them.
The number five pick of last year’s AFL draft, Will Setterfield, made the most of a free kick given for his defensive tackle in the Giants’ forward line, to close the margin to four points.
Then, on the 11-minute-mark, Giants big man Matthew Flynn completed a speccy at half forward and passed to former Western Bulldogs and Giants AFL player Dylan Addison who scored, giving the Giants a two-point lead.
Inexplicably, and rather optimistically, the siren then blew way before it should have, causing confusion among umpires, players and fans, and the odd cheeky Giant to attempt handshakes in the hope people would accept the game had ended.
Play resumed after a couple of minutes of awkward silence, but the goals then dried up.
Among a series of desperate tackles and brave intercept marks, especially from Setterfield, Thunder defender Sam Smith took a strong mark inside the forward 50 after 16 minutes, but he only managed a behind from his shot closing the deficit to one point.
A Giants rushed behind two minutes later restored their two-point lead, which again narrowed to the single point thanks to a Ferreira snap for a behind.
2016’s number 14 draft pick, Harry Perryman, had a chance to put the game out of Thunder’s reach after 28 minutes, but his snap went through for a minor score.
The visitors then moved the ball forward for it to eventually fall into the waiting arms of the Wadeye Wizard, who, in just his third Thunder game, slotted it through for another historic victory for the Top End men.
Thunder coach Andrew Hodges said after the match that there are few boots he’d rather be relying on to win a game under such circumstances.
“Some moments before that I said if it’s not in Boof’s (Darren Ewing) hands for that last kick then Francis would probably be the next guy so he showed some real composure to go back and slot that goal and it was really important for us,” Hodges said.
It was Kinthari’s only goal for the match, but Hodges said it wasn’t just kicking the winning goal that pleased him about the 23-year-old’s game.
“He played a really important role for us up the ground,” Hodges said. “Obviously it’s a big ground, but there wasn’t too much space for him at times, but when he could find that space he did some good things with the footy.”
Earlier, the Giants jumped out to a quick two-goal lead in the first quarter thanks to majors from Karl Merson and Harry Perryman, but Thunder hit back with the next five goals of the term while also preventing their hosts from managing to score any more majors.
Centre-half-forward Hugo Drogemuller scored the visitor’s first with on-ballers Abraham Ankers and Cameron Ilett joining Darren Ewing (two goals) on the scoreboard.
Addison kicked off the scoring in the second term for the Giants to bring the difference back to nine points, but in a similar vein to the first term, Jack Shanahan (two goals for the quarter), Lachlan Collihole and Darren Ewing, kicked the next four.
At that stage, Thunder’s lead had ballooned to 34 points and it looked as though the visiting side was in for a big win, but goals to James Peatling, Jeromy Lucas on debut and Matthew Flynn helped close the gap to nine points at half time.
It was Thunder’s turn to launch the scoring in the third term. Two Darren Ewing majors, including his fifth for the game, were separated by a Ferreira six pointer and once again the NT team looked to be getting of top.
The game was about to swing again though with the second half of the term belonging to the Giants.
They kicked the last four goals with Setterfield, Peatling, Lucas (two goals for the quarter) and Zach Sproule helping their team set up that three-point lead at three-quarter-time.
Hodges said he was pleased that his side had been able to respond to its surprise loss to Southport last week.
“Last week was pretty disappointing so it was important this week that we bounced back and try really hard to consolidate that fourth spot so to get that win, as nerve-wracking as it was, is a real positive for us because we’re back at home for the next two weeks,” he said.
“They had some really good players out there, some players with AFL experience so a really good experience for our guys to play against some of the best kids who have been drafted in the last couple of years and they were a pretty good side today.
“They played some good footy in patches and so did we. I don’t think either side put together a four-quarter performance, which was a bit of slog at times. Both sides had their free open footy and to be that close at the end of the game and to get the win is really exciting for us.”
Thunder’s win was set up by its midfield brigade with inside specialists Ankers (21 disposals) and Matt Rosier (15) and all-round brilliant footballer Cameron Ilett (21) leading the way.
Thunder’s ruck division of Scott McLeod (195 centimetres/99 kilograms) and Neil Vea Vea (190 cm/97 kg) gave away height and weight against the Giants’ Giant in Dawson Simpson (210 cm/109 kg) but battled bravely to ensure a contest at stoppages around the ground.
Hodges reserved special praise for the under-rated McLeod, who stepped up in the absence of regular first ruckman Ryan Smith.
“I thought Cammy Ilett was outstanding around stoppages, he gave us a bit of grunt inside the contest, along with Abe Ankers, and Matt Rosier was fantastic in there, but I thought Scott McLeod’s effort in the ruck, I think he was giving up probably around 10 or 13 centimetres on Dawson (Simpson), but Scotty just kept bashing into him all day and held his own and just provided a contest for us, which was really important, and I thought Sam Smith was really important for us down back.”
Ewing was another key component of the Thunder win with the NEAFL’s leading goal-kicker adding another five goals for the match to take his season tally to 45.
The Giants were led by their young guns with Setterfield gathering 31 disposals, kicking two goals, laying a huge number of tackles and getting some vital possessions in defence as well.
Perryman also kicked two goals while picking up 27 disposals, running defender Isaac Cumming notched up 26 disposals and Giants academy product Brendan Myers gathered a huge 32 disposals.
One aspect of the game that will please Giants coach Brad Miller will be the sparkling debut of Jeromy Lucas, who kicked three goals.
Meanwhile, the victory helps Thunder maintain its hold on fourth spot on the NEAFL ladder one game clear of the Gold Coast.
Thunder’s next challenge is back at TIO Stadium in Darwin against Redland on Saturday.
GWS Giants 5.0, 7.6, 12.7, 14.9 (93)
NT Thunder 2.3, 9.3, 12.3, 15.7 (97)
GWS Giants: Jeromy Lucas 3, Harry Perryman 2, James Peatling 2, Will Setterfield 2, Dylan Addison 2, Karl Merson, Matt Flynn, Zach Sproule.
NT Thunder: Darren Ewing 5, Jack Shanahan 2, Abraham Ankers 2, Davin Ferreira 2, Hugo Drogemuller, Cameron Ilett, Lachlan Collihole, Francis Kinthari.
GWS Giants: Will Setterfield, Harry Perryman, Isaac Cumming, Brendan Myers, Matt Flynn, Jeromy Lucas.
NT Thunder: Cameron Ilett, Abraham Ankers, Matt Rosier, Scott McLeod, Sam Smith, Ben Rioli.