Saturday 14 August 2010

The NT Thunder withstood a spirited challenge from ladder-leaders Labrador to win 14.11 (95) to 13.7 (85) in front of over 2000 spectators at the picturesque Gardens Oval in Darwin tonight.

The game marked a return to Gardens Oval, which was commemorated well by the Thunder with past NTFL greats forming a guard of honor for the current players plus a great atmosphere created by a crowd appreciating a return to the ‘people’s ground’.

The commencement of the game was delayed 20 minutes due to airline and baggage issues impacting on Labrador’s schedule, but when it got under way it was a real arm wrestle before the Thunder scored the opening goal at the 10-minute mark.

Thunder spearhead Darren Ewing kicked two of his side’s three opening quarter goals and was having the better of Nick Stockdale whenever isolated inside 50.

Diminutive Alice Springs midfielder Charlie Maher was in everything early and bar for some wayward kicking the Thunder should have turned more than 14 points up at the first break.

The Tigers worked their way back into the contest early in the second quarter with goals from Russell Alleway and a terrific goal on the run from the boundary line by Mat Clarke.

Tigers coach Jarred Field loaded up his forward line with Trent Knobel playing deep but in doing so they lost momentum around the middle of the ground and the Thunder responded with a brace of goals from Aaron Motlop and a clever goal from Zephi Skinner after he marked in front of a pack.

Brett Goodes was providing wonderful leadership down back and was pinpoint with his disposal. He was aided by the experienced Cameron Roberts, who gave the Thunder defence some starch.

Former Lions teammates Tim Notting and Shannon Rusca collided, with the latter coming off second-best, but the Thunder defender quickly recovered to continue his sweeping outlet role down back.

Ewing kicked his fourth and the home side finished the half full of running to lead by 24 points at the main break.

The Tigers changed their structure at half time and with Knobel dominating centre bounces gained some midfield ascendancy through Jason Howard, Shane Paterson, and outside winger Todd Grayson getting involved.

Nathan Gurcuillo was stationed up forward with immediate impact and kicked two goals in succession putting the Tigers within arm’s reach. Alleway was playing a good hit up role and when Vigus kicked his second it was game on.

Once again the Thunder rallied when challenged, with goals from Ewing and two crucial ones from Shaun Wilson and Brad Palipuaminni deep into time on which extinguished the Tigers’ momentum but the lead had been cut to 14 points at last drinks.

The last quarter was a classic and a credit to both clubs and the big crowd that had come to life.

Knobel was well on top of Kenrick Tyrrell and Paterson, Howard, and Clarke constantly pumped the ball forward.

Dion Munkara kicked an opportunist goal but then enter Vigus who was proving difficult to match up on.

Vigus was strong overhead for his size and finished well. The Tigers lost Gurcuillo to a calf injury at a critical stage and worse was to follow when half forward Michael Doyle collided with Shaun Tapp and had to be assisted from the field with a shoulder injury.

But when Vigus goaled from the boundary line in front of the Labrador coaches box he silenced the crowd and put the Tigers in front at the 22-minute mark of a gripping last quarter.

The Thunder back half, led by Goodes and Rusca, were constantly rebounding the ball e only to see Labrador win possession through the middle of the ground.

The enigmatic Skinner then launched, marked, and goaled at the 25-minute mark to regain the lead for the Thunder and the locals nearly bought the Hunter Harrison grandstand down.

The Thunder’s intensity lifted and their forward pressure was rewarded when the ball spilt out to the injured Roberts who iced the game with a snap shot from 30m.

Through the agency of Goodes and Rusca, the Thunder successfully milked the clock and when the final siren sounded both sides were spent with a margin of 10 points favoring the home side.

The Thunder were best served by the level heads of Goodes and Rusca, Roberts stood up despite a possible season ending quad injury, young Dean Staunton was important when it mattered, and Ewing and Skinner shared eight goals and were efficient with their conversion.

The Tigers were brave and lost no admirers, with Knobel the best big man on the ground and mid-sized players Howard, Clarke, Paterson, and Tony Lester all having an impact. Vigus with five goals was a productive small forward and Curtis Allen did a wonderful negating job on Thunder prime mover Cameron Ilett.

A win back at the Gardens next Saturday against eighth placed Broadbeach will be enough to secure a finals berth for the Thunder, while the Tigers head back to the Gold Coast knowing that a home win against the lowly Brisbane Lions Reserves will see the club win its first ever QAFL minor premiership.

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