By Peter Blucher
NEAFL NORTHERN CONFERENCE GRAND FINAL
Sunday 16 September 2012
Brisbane Lions Reserves v Northern Territory Thunder, Yeronga, 2pm.
NEAFL Coach of the Year Greg Seton-Lonsdale has tipped the Brisbane Lions Reserves to beat the NT Thunder by “29-34 points” in the NEAFL Northern Conference grand final at Yeronga on Sunday.
Seton-Lonsdale, recognised at the Grogan Medal dinner last Monday night for his outstanding effort in taking Redland to within a whisker of the preliminary final in his first full season at the helm, said the Lions were “set up perfectly” to win.
“Everything has fallen into place for them,” he said. “The week off helps at this time of year, they’ve got good quality players coming back from the AFL, and the Thunder are travelling for the second week in a row.
“And what I really like is that the Lions are a real team this year. ‘Clarkey’ (coach Nathan Clarke) has done a fantastic job with them and they are a unit that plays together.
“Obviously the club has identified this as a great way to teach the kids how to win and it’s a great opportunity for them.
“They look like they’ve just got too much quality for mine.”
Indeed there is no shortage of quality after coach Clarke named a side with the maximum 18 listed players, plus five quality top-ups.
Retiring Sydney Swans premiership player Amon Buchanan will play his final game in the NEAFL grand final after his AFL farewell in Round 23.
Buchanan, best afield in the Lions’ qualifying final win over Southport at Coorparoo before his AFL recall, will be joined in the Reserves grand final side by Round 23 AFL teammates James Hawksley, Claye Beams, Jordan Lislie and Elliott Yeo.
Todd Banfield and Jared Polec, members of the Lions side that beat the NT Thunder in the qualifying final in Darwin a fortnight ago, were ruled out through injury.
Cheynee Stiller, who has been with the Reserves for most of the year, will captain the grand final side ahead of Hawksley, who had been the skipper prior to his late season elevation to the AFL side.
With the AFL quota full available, that only left room for five top-ups.
Dave Cummins, who aligned himself to the Western Magpies this year after moving from Canberra-based club Eastlake, was automatic after he played 18 of a possible 19 games with the Lions. Likewise fellow Magpies Scott Clarke, who has played 13 games, and Jack Fox, who has played nine of the last 10 games.
Aspley’s Isaac Conway, who has played five games, and Morningside’s Jesse Wallin, who made his Lions debut in the semi-final in Darwin, won the last two spots.
The Morningside trio of Jackson Starcevich, Josh Smith and Rhys Power are emergencies.
There was one automatic change to the Thunder side, with midfield ace Jake Dignan to return after missing last week’s preliminary final to stay with partner Carla for the birth of their first child.
According to Thunder insiders, Dignan said Carla was good but he nearly passed out.
The 2011 Joe Grant Medalist wanted to name the baby Darren after his good mate Darren ‘Boof’ Ewing but Carla prevailed.
Dignan’s inclusion will make for at least one desperately unlucky player who will miss out after being a member of the side that beat Southport in the preliminary final last week.
Thunder selectors named a 26-man squad, also adding Kieren Smith, who played the last 12 games of the home-and-away season and was the travelling emergency last week, and Jared Stokes, who has only played in Round 7 and Round 12.
Smith and Stokes, unlikely to break into the Grand Final side, were bracketed on the bench with Kevin Vearncombe, Nathan Brown, Jack Lawler, Lachlan Argus, Jack McEwin and William Farrer. McEwin is perhaps the unlucky one to miss out on Sunday.
There was no room in the 26-man squad for 2011 premiership team member Willie Kossack, who played against the Lions in the major semi-final a fortnight ago, or Dean Staunton, who has been part of the senior group for most of the year.
This means only 10 members of the Thunder’s Northern Conference premiership side of last year will be chasing back-to-back flags.
They are captain Cameron Ilett, Jed Anderson, Dignan, Darren Ewing, Willie Farrer, Jason Roe, Matt Rosier, Shannon Rusca, Shaun Tapp and Kenrick Tyrrell.
The 12 members of the 2011 premiership team no longer playing with the club were Dane Bergman, Jared Ilett, Charlie Maher, Andrew McLeod, Aaron Motlop, Bradley Palipuaminni, Shannon Rioli, Cameron Roberts, Ryan Smith, Ross Tungatalum, Iggy Vallejo and Josh Watson.
Staunton, Louis Eggar, Nyubaru Kelly and Karl Lohde are the other members of the 2011 Cross-Conference premiership team not involved any more, having replaced Anderson, Kossack, Roberts and Watson for the club’s second grand final in as many weeks last year.
Statistically speaking, NT utility player Matty Argus, who doubles as the Thunder’s Commercial Operations Coordinator midweek, will play his 100th QAFL/NEAFL game in the grand final.
He played 50 games with Zillmere, 17 with Aspley and has played 32 games with the Thunder over the past three years.
Rosier is set to become the sixth player to post 50 games for the Thunder behind Ewing (77), Cam Ilett (75), Jared Ilett (54), Dignan (53) and Palipuaminni (52).
And Chris Dunne, with 49 goals in his first season with the club, is set to become the fifth player to post his half-century behind Ewing (340), Cam Ilett (102), Farrer (62) an Tungatalum (55).
Assuming he kicks one goal in the grand final Dunne will become just the third player to kick 50 goals in a season for the club behind Ewing, who, in his four seasons at full forward has posted 81 goals (2009), 78 (2010), 115 (2011) and 66 (2012), plus Tungatalum, who kicked 55 goals last year to win the NEAFL Rising Star Award.
Ewing and Dunne have been the Thunder’s primary goal-kickers this year with Farrer (35), Cam Ilett (21), Patrick Heenan (20) and Brad Vassal (16).
Cornelius, with 53 goals in 12 NEAFL games this year, will go into the grand final as the Lions’ No.1 goal-kicker from Lisle, who returns to the side having kicked four goals in five AFL games late in the season after posting 45 goals in 16 NEAFL games.
Karnezis, with 22 goals in 13 NEAFL games, has also been a consistent avenue to goal along with Josh Dyson (19 in 19), Hawksley (15 in 14), Callum Bartlett (15 in 18), Buchanan (13 in 11) and Beams (10 in 11).
The 18 listed players in the Lions side have played a total of 66 AFL games between them this year, headed by Jack Crisp (10), Niall McKeever (9), Beams (8), Cornelius (8), Yeo (8) and Karnezis (7).
Lisle (5), Billy Longer (5), Hawksley (4), AFL 100-gamer Cheynee Stiller (3), Steve Wrigley (3) and Buchanan (1) also have played at AFL level in 2012.
This leaves Bartlett, Justin Clarke, Sam Docherty, Dyson, Sam Michael and Patrick Wearden, yet to play at AFL level, to complete the AFL core of the Lions grand final line-up.
The Lions will take a 2-0 head-to-head record against the Thunder this year into the grand final – both in the Territory.
In Round 4 the Lions took an oversized line-up, with eight players 193cm or taller, to Alice Springs and returned with a 12-12 (84) to 11-10 (76) win.
They kicked 5-1 to 1-2 in the first quarter and led 8-7 to 2-4 at halftime but had to dig deep to hang on against a fast-finishing NT outfit in a game which may have gone the other way if it went an extra 10 minutes.
Hawksley was the Lions’ best, slotting in as his side’s seventh defender, while Stiller, with 10 possessions in a critical final quarter contribution, was another standout in a run-with role on the dangerous Ilett. Wrigley also did a fine job on Dunne.
Defender Julian Lockwood was best for the Thunder while Ewing kicked five goals and Dignan worked tirelessly in the midfield.
The Grogan Medal votes went to Bartlett (3), Justin Clarke (2) and Stiller (1).
In the major semi-final in Darwin a fortnight ago first-year rookie Sam Michael was best afield at centre half forward as the Lions beat the Thunder 17-10 (112) to 11-12 (78) to qualify for their first grand final since 2001.
The Lions’ win ended a 10-game winning streak for the 2012 Thunder, and a 24-game winning streak in Darwin dating back to the start of 2010.
The defensive group headed by Justin Clarke, McKeever Wrigley, Docherty and Wearden were the keys as the Lions kicked 7-2 to 4-0 in the second term to take control.
The Lions stretched the halftime lead of 21 points to 30 points by three-quarter time, and after the NT cut the deficit back to 21 points at one stage in the final term the visitors kicked the last two goals to win comfortably.
Half forward Bartlett was lively throughout and kicked three important goals, Karnezis topped the Lions possession count with 29 and kicked two goals, and Cornelius had 19 possessions, 10 marks and five goals at full forward.
Back pocket and draft hopeful Ben Rioli was clearly the Thunder’s best player, while Tyrrell was a powerhouse in the ruck, Dunne worked hard for his four goals, and Dignan, Ilett, Rosier and Anderson did some good things through the midfield.