By Murray Silby
As a fan of a team that is second last on the ladder with just the one game left in the season, you have to find motivation other than the finals to keep your spirits up.
That usually falls onto the shoulders of the youngest members of the playing group as fans look for sprouts of future success.
As Thunder brings its season to a close against Sydney University in Round 21 on Saturday – much earlier than it had planned – fans have plenty of sprouts to place their hopes in for a full harvest next year and beyond.
It’ll need to be a good crop too as the match at Blacktown International Sports Park will be the last in Thunder colours for retiring premiership stars Darren Ewing and Ryan Smith.
But youngsters like Michael Mummery, Matt Green, Jamie Hampton, Rodney Baird, Coen Hutt, Beau Schwarze, Izaak Wyatt and Dominic Forbes have all shown glimpses during the season to suggest they have bright futures at Thunder level and maybe beyond.
One other – Malcolm Rosas – had to wait until Round 19 for his chance in the senior side, but he didn’t disappoint fans or the coaching staff alike when he finally did.
Coaches and senior staff of football clubs are usually prone to understating the performances of young players lest they get a bit full of themselves, but Rosas’ debut against Redland two weeks’ ago attracted high praise from Thunder coach Andrew Hodges.
“His first quarter was really outstanding and we moved him up the ground a bit to expose him a bit more and he did really well, but we felt he was most comfortable playing across half-forward as a high half-forward,” Hodges said.
“His leg speed up around the contest. He was just so clean at ground level and his debut was really promising.
“He came away from the game knowing he’s got a few things to work on and he’ll do that. He’s got his head screwed on so I’m really looking forward to seeing him over the next couple of weeks, but especially over the next 12 months.”
Former Richmond and Adelaide star Richard Tambling, now one of Thunder’s most respected leaders was also impressed.
“I’ve honestly never seen a debut like that at Thunder level,” Tambling said. “He was pretty amazing. He looked really comfortable. He used the footy well. He played four quarters of footy, which I haven’t seen in a young guy before so that was quite impressive.
“You don’t want to put too much pressure on a young kid and he’s still got a few more years to develop before he can be considered at AFL level, but with the right attitude and right work rate he’s definitely got the skills and the want to back it all up.”
With family heritage from Central Arnhem Land on his mother’s side and South Sea kanakin via Queensland on his dad’s, Rosas grew up in Darwin, but one of the Northern Territory’s brightest footy prospects hasn’t always played the game.
“I started off playing soccer and all my mates were playing footy so I started playing footy and I just got into it and it was fun,” he said. “It became a passion.”
“I started off playing at school (Alawa) against other schools, playing at lunch time and after school.”
From school footy he progressed to the NTFL and there was only one club for Rosas to consider.
“I’ve always been Buffaloes. It’s my family’s club,” he explained. “My two Pops played there, William Dempsey and Raymond Cummings.”
If the name William Dempsey means something to you it’s not surprising.
“My Pop Bill Dempsey, he played down in the WAFL with West Perth and he made the team of the century for Buffs and the AFLNT team of the century.”
A former Buffaloes captain, Dempsey was recruited to West Perth in 1966 and made an immediate impact, winning the best and fairest the same year.
His legacy also earnt him representation in both the WAFL and NTFL halls of fame. It didn’t take Buffaloes long to recognise Rosas’ talent either.
“I debuted (for Buffaloes) when I was 15 in the 2016/17 season and last year (2017/18) I played 16 games, the finals and grand final,” he recalled. “I played wing and half-forward.
“I went away with the under 18s in April and then I went away with the under 16s as an over-age player.”
Rosas’ performances for the NT’s under 16s, which saw him average 18 disposals, 4.5 inside 50s and four tackles per game, resulted in him being selected in the All-Australian squad.
Although he has a light frame, Rosas’ speed is elite, recording the NT under 18s’ fastest 20-metre sprint at 2.88 seconds and 8.03 seconds in the AFL’s agility test.
“I’ve worked on my speed a lot lately,” he said, “so I try to manoeuvre through traffic. It’s just if I get hit I get hit.”
He was coached at the under 16s carnival by Matt Campbell, Thunder team-mate, former North Melbourne star, and a product of the Pioneers Football Club in Alice Springs.
“Matty Campbell helps me out a lot,” he explained. “He’s had a lot to do with me and coming from club level to state level is pretty intense and Phillip Wills too (formerly Buffs, now Nightcliff, and a Thunder team-mate).
“Matty helped me during my under 16s. We played seniors in (NTFL) premier league and he brought me here and we’ve done some training sessions when I was injured. That helped me heaps and he taught me how to rehab properly.”
Although he looked as comfortable as a veteran, the 17-year-old said his debut game against Redland was a shock to the system.
“I was nervous,” he admitted. “A little bit scared of the bigger bodies coming, but I had all the boys helping me out, encouraging me to play better and just get around the footy as much as I can so it was good in my first game.”
Thunder won the Redland game, but was easily beaten by premiership fancy Southport last week.
“It was heaps harder. It was fast. It was really intense. A lot of bigger bodies. It’s a whole different level,” Rosas suggested.
And he’s not expecting it to get any easier against Sydney University either. The Students are fourth on the ladder with 44 points, or 11 wins and six losses, but are one of four clubs with the same record at the top of the table.
Southport is top, Sydney is second and Aspley third. Each has a superior percentage to the Students, but are equal on points and searching for a home final.
That means Sydney University has it all to play for this weekend. “I’m expecting the same (from them) as against Southport. The boys want to finish off the season well so hopefully we’ll shape their finals and see where they go,” Rosas said.
Sydney University has a formidable side with plenty of stars. They include Will Sierakowski and Craig Bird, who last weekend put on a show against fifth-placed Canberra, helping their side to a 47-point win.
Sierakowski had 31 disposals, 12 clearances and nine inside 50 entries as well as 13 contested possessions while
Bird broke the NEAFL record for most clearances in a game – 20. He also had 38 disposals and 10 inside 50s.
Thunder’s crop of youngsters also have plenty to play for though and they don’t come much better than some retiring veterans who helped build the club they now play for.
NEAFL Round 21 – Sydney University v NT Thunder, Saturday 25th of August, 2 pm, Blacktown International Sports Park, Rooty Hill.