The Round 1 NT Thunder Under 18 Academy to take on the Gold Coast Suns in the first round of the new NAB League this Saturday is locked in, and it’s full of the brightest NT football talent.
The list of 23 players has a good mix of youth and experience, with players from NT Thunder’s Top End Academy (Darwin) converging on Blacktown, Sydney this Saturday with their teammates who come from the Redtails Academy (Alice Springs), AFLNGA areas (Katherine, Tiwi Islands), as well as those boarding interstate.
Fresh faces to the team and first-time NT representatives include; Wade Derksen who was in great form during the recent NTFL finals series, Ronald Fejo (Jnr), captain of the Wanderers’ Under 18 NTFL premiership side, Simon Richardson, who played senior football with St Mary’s in 2019 and Tyson Woods, who is a Yeundumu/Haasts Bluff product who kicked six goals for the Redtails in their recent match against Woodville West Torrens Under 20 side.
Seventeen-year-olds Michael Cooper, Joel Jeffrey and Maurice Rioli (Jnr) are amongst the youngsters included in the team. There are also those who have experience playing for the Academy last season, in Joel Budarick, Ben Jungfer and Dom Forbes and the team is also blessed with returning top age players (19-year-olds), led by Joel Stevens and Stephen and Matt Cumming.
Selection in the Round 1 team was based on compliance with the whole Academy program, which covers training attendance, online diary, attitude and effort, as well as based on recent form in the NTFL or other competitions.
In more exciting news for the side, the leadership group was unveiled at Thursday night’s training session with Budarick, Forbes and Stevens joining Beau O’Connell as the quartet to lead this year’s NT Thunder Under 18 side.
Head Coach Jason Roe said the leaders were all standout players and people.
“We are blessed to have a squad full of talent, and a number of guys were just unlucky to miss the call-up for Round 1, but their opportunities will come.
“Likewise, there are plenty of natural leaders in the group but the coaches and talent and pathway staff who have been watching very closely over the last few months deemed the attitude and commitment shown by these four players, in conjunction with their approach to senior footy was most impressive.
“Joel Budarick will play mostly in a midfield and backline rotation; he is a premiership player with Nightcliff and a NEAFL-contracted player who is mature both on and off the field. He shows great commitment from his home-base in Katherine.
“Likewise, Dom Forbes from Alice Springs has been in the NT Thunder talent pathway since he was 15. He has picked up plenty of individual praise and awards along but keeps a team-first attitude, which was a big reason why he made his NEAFL debut last year.
“Beau O’Connell has won back-to-back premierships with Wanderers in the Under 18 NTFL competition and was also a standout for its Men’s Premier League this past season, earning the Round 1 Rising Star nomination. He is a quiet, unassuming type but has a significant presence amongst the group.
“Lastly but by no means least, Joel Stevens played a lot of senior footy with Waratah, which was a good reward for the hard work he has put in since being a junior, who started in the NT Thunder pathway as a 15-year-old. He shows great perseverance and is a highly valued member on and off the field.”
When speaking to the team’s focuses this Saturday, Roe said they would play a brand of football to be proud of.
“We want to be a competitive side; we want to be more organised than the opposition and expand the Territory brand of footy; so quick transition, plenty of forward 50 entries and working hard defensively is done while adhering to our team structures and team-first mentality,” he said.
NT Thunder Talent and Pathways Manager, Wally Gallio said
“We are coming up against a Gold Coast team that is well coached and structured by Andrew Raines and his team. They are big-bodied and have been training together since November last year.
“They have six players in the National Allies Academy, but we’re not intimidated, it sets up a good challenge for our NT players.
“The pleasing aspect with our team is that all players have played senior football throughout the Territory and each player brings a uniqueness to the team,” Gallio said.
Fans interested in following the team on Saturday afternoon can do so through the NAB League app.
NAB League Round 1
Gold Coast Suns vs NT Thunder
Saturday 30 March
Blacktown International Sportspark
B: Dominic Forbes, Joel Budarick, Braith Hodges
HB: Marly McGregor, Shawn Foster, Kynan Kenny
C: Leonard Ferreira, Ben Jungfer, Brandon Rusca
HF: James Box, Joel Jeffrey, Wade Derksen
F: Maurice Rioli (Jnr), Matthew Cumming, Michael Cooper
FOLL: Stephen Cumming, Joel Stevens, Beau O’Connell
INT: Ronald Fejo (Jnr), Brodie Lake, Jonty Patrick, Simon Richardson, Tyson Woods
EMERGENCIES: Luke MacDonald, Dray Thompson