By JESS WEBSTER
A change in personnel and an influx of new players may just be what NT Thunder needs to return to finals action as new era begins under coach Darren Reeves in 2019.
NT Thunder missed the finals for just the second time last year since the NEAFL began in 2011, and what followed were the retirements of league legends Cameron Ilett and Darren Ewing.
The first task on Reeves’ list upon taking over the coaching reins from Andrew Hodges was building a competitive list capable to push for a top-six finish.
So far, so good according to Reeves, who sees no reason as to why the side cannot match it with the best.
“Like everyone at this point of the year you want to play finals so that’s our goal,” he told NEAFL TV.
“We looked at areas that we needed to improve in, both playing personnel and the way we play and we’ve really targeted that.
“We feel like if we’re able to do that it will bring out the strengths of the territory players and the way football is played in the territory.
“If we’re able to… improve in those areas we feel like we’ll be able to compete with most teams and give ourselves a chance to be there right at the end of the season.”
It’s been a busy recruitment drive for NT Thunder in the off-season, which has netted former Fremantle ruckman Jack Hannath, Reserves Magarey medallist Jacob Templeton and two-time St Marys best-and-fairest Nathaniel Paredes.
Together with the incoming recruits, Thunder has also welcomed back former listed players Will Farrer and Dean Staunton – who were part of their 2011 premiership triumph – and Michael Bowden.
“We really identified some key areas that we needed to go and target some players and they would hopefully come in and help the talent that we’ve got in the territory to be better, and for our group to be better as a whole,” Reeves said.
“On the back of that we’ve been able to attract some quality NTFL players back to the program as well as some really quality young kids in to our program that haven’t been a part of it before.
“I’m really excited by what the list looks like right now, but it’s pre-season so until we start playing we don’t know how it comes together.”
The run towards Round 1 is always a unique challenge for NT Thunder with most of its playing group battling each other in the NTFL season, which wraps up in mid-March.
It’s one of many challenges facing Reeves in his first year in the job, but it’s a unique situation he is happy to be a part of.
“The challenge around trying to educate them on how we want to play and where we want to improve has been difficult, but we feel like we’ve made some good in those areas considering the lack of time we’ve had,” he said.
“We’re excited with where it sits, we’re looking forward to the rest of the guys getting through the rest of the NTFL season, and then having a three week block where we can spend plenty of time together and be ready to go for Round 1.
“The opportunity to coach at this level, but then to work with a team of talented players every day -that’s a really exciting thing for me personally.
“Hopefully us as a program (improves) and being recognised around the country as a really strong program.
“If we’re able to do that we’ll win some games of football along the way and we’ll have a good time, so that’s the real focus for us.”
NT Thunder kicks off it 2019 campaign against Brisbane in a Saturday night blockbuster at TIO Stadium on April 6.
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