Sunday 1 August 2010

The Northern Territory’s prospects of hosting the elimination final took a serious hit from the Brisbane Lions yesterday, despite a master class by Thunder star Cameron Ilett.

Ilett won possession at will and booted four first half goals to help his side for a 30-point lead at halftime, only to see the home side erase the deficit in 30 minutes on the back of a sensational third term by key forward Bryce Retzlaff and midfielder Travis Johnstone.

The Lions booted the first three goals of the last quarter to ensure the game was theirs, eventually winning 16.9 (105) to  14.11 (95).

The loss dropped the Thunder to fifth place and slightly opened the door for the Lions to make a late charge at the finals.

It always appeared a danger game for the Thunder when inspirational skipper Jarred Ilett was a late withdrawal alongside the well-performed Jake Dignan.

Yet they began the game with plenty of spark, Cameron Ilett leading the charge but Brett Goodes and big Kenrick Tyrell not far behind.

Tyrrell dominated the ruck against the highly rated Broc McCauley, while Goodes provided the run off half back.

Ilett started on Sam Sheldon and was too good for him, they caused similar headaches for Troy Selwood.

Top class AFL defender Jed Adcock, in his first game back from injury, eventually got the assignment and even he had problems with the Thunder ball magnet.

While Ilett added a fifth goal to his personal tally in the third term, the loss of momentum forced coach Murray Davis to move him onto the ball in the final quarter and they didn’t look as potent.

Strong key forward Aaron Cornelius, surprisingly chopped from the Lions senior side, kept his side in the game with three early goals when his side deserved to be much further behind.

With the Thunder leading 11.4 to 6.4 at the long break, the change that came over the game was sudden and unexpected.

Retzlaff had hardly been sighted in the first half but marked everything that came his way in the third term and helped his side level the score at the last change.

He was ably supported by young top-up player Josh Breukers, who provided the avenue to goal across half-forward on the odd occasion when Retzlaff didn’t have the ball.

Johnstone imposed himself on the game in the middle, winning plenty of clearances and chopping off any Thunder counter-punches a kick behind the play.

It was Johnstone who put his side in front for the first time with a calm set shot in the fourth quarter after the Thunder had missed at the other end.

Jesse O’Brien then nailed a brilliant snap to make the margin 11 points, and the Thunder were gone when Cornelius marked strongly and booted his fifth.

It was a fine effort by the Lions considering they were whittled down to 15 listed players on match morning and lost Bart McCulloch in the opening half.

Claye Beams was their best player in the first half.

Ilett, Tyrrell and Goodes were simply outstanding all day but did not have the support to hold the Lions at bay, with the small bodies of some of their teammates eventually wilting on the close confines of Giffin Park.

The pressure is now on the Thunder as they face a return trip to Queensland to face the revitalized Aspley on Saturday, while the Lions have a tough contract at Mt Gravatt next Sunday. 

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