NTFL Men’s Premier League preview: Round 3 – Wanderers face Nightcliff in lone top five clash

ONLY one game in Round 3 of the Northern Territory Football League (NTFL) Men’s Premier League will be played between teams in finals spots, with Wanderers facing reigning premier Nightcliff on Saturday evening. Meanwhile, both Southern Districts and Palmerston have the chance to grab their first win of the season, and St Mary’s will look to stay undefeated.

TIWI BOMBERS (8th, 0-2) vs. ST MARY’S (2nd, 2-0)
Saturday October 19, 2:30pm
TIO Stadium

Teams with polar opposite formlines meet to kick off Round 3 as Tiwi plays host to St Mary’s at TIO Stadium. The topped-up Saints have been excellent so far in toppling Waratah and Palmerston, but will face a tricky task in upholding their form against an underperforming Bombers unit. Both teams had a good amount of build-up coming into the season, but Tiwi’s production has been levels off that of its weekend opponent. To be fair to the Bombers, fixtures against Darwin and reigning premier Nightcliff to start the year arguably poised them with the toughest early draw, but their best started to come to the fore in the second and third terms against Nightcliff after the Tigers got the jump on them. Slow starts seem to be a theme for the bottom-placed side, which had to dig itself out of a similar rut in the opening stages of last season. St Mary’s ended up being the side to claim the dreaded wooden spoon, but all signs point toward a more positive outcome this time around.

The talent on either side is undeniable, stacked with famous NT names throughout. Saints leader Raphael Clarke has made a starring start to the year alongside smaller types in Nicholas Yarran, Nathaniel Paredes, and the returning Jackson Geary. Ex-AFL midfielder Will Hams has also been a welcome addition to what is a re-energised Saints line-up looking to crack back into its rightful top-end spot. Former-Saint Michael Dunn has bagged multiple goals in both of his games thus far and will provide good opposition alongside Adam Tipungwuti and Jason Puruntatameri. They will look to new recruit Michael Mummery, Round 2 rising star nominee Jeffrey Simon, and Harley Puruntatameri to provide some added spark, with the Bombers’ x-factor something that sets them apart. That unpredictability against some of St Mary’s proven quantities will be key to this contest, and we could well get a belter.

SOUTHERN DISTRICTS (5th, 0-1-1) vs. PALMERSTON MAGPIES (7th, 0-2)
Saturday October 19, 4:00pm
Norbuilt Oval

One team’s zero is set to go, as the winless Southern Districts and Palmerston do battle at Norbuilt Oval in the weekend’s only game away from TIO Stadium. Given the 0-2 Magpies sit without any points altogether, the Crocs would be smelling blood in the water at the opportunity continue their trend of going one-better in each passing game. A draw against Wanderers last time out was less than ideal though, with the Crocs unable to truly click into gear for four quarters despite showing some promising signs in their Round 1 grand final rematch. Another less-than-ideal situation is that they will be without William Farrer for at least this fixture after he became the first NTFL player to be charged under the Auditory Offences matrix for umpire abuse. It serves as another blow to the Crocs’ firepower, which is already missing ex-AFL star Leroy Jetta and now-Bomber Michael Mummery from last year’s campaign. They will have to turn to Josiah Farrer, Beau Schwarze and Brodie Lake, as well as the experience of 100-gamer Charlie McAdam for inspiration in this clash, with Palmerston boasting a few tricky customers.

The Magpies were competitive despite falling short of Darwin by almost four goals in Round 2, slowly building on a disappointing opening round showing. State combine invitee Nigel Lockyer Jnr has been the standout with three goals in both games so far, while Bundoora stalwart Matthew Dennis has transferred last year’s form to this season. All three Davey boys were absent last time out for the Magpies in what was a blow to their creativity forward of centre, so a combination of them back in the side would do a world of good. Kyle Emery and Misha Perry Jnr will look to up their output to match the Crocs too, with the inability to kick a winning score one of the things holding Palmerston back from the better teams as it stands. If Southern Districts can find its groove and get on top early, watch out, otherwise expect to see the Magpies compete again for four quarters.

DARWIN BUFFALOES (1st, 2-0) vs. WARATAH (6th, 0-2)
Saturday October 19, 5:00pm
TIO Stadium

Another clash of opposing form is set to go down in Saturday’s evening game between Darwin and Waratah, with the former looking to remain atop the NTFL ladder. The Buffs have made an inspired start to the season for a second campaign running, sparked by big bags of goals from Adam Sambono (12 goals) and Brayden Culhane (six) in either game. While Sambono was absent in Round 2, his return would spell serious trouble for the struggling Warriors as it would free the likes of Joe Anderson and Patrick Boles to wreak havoc further afield. Lee Mununggurr and Antonio James are others who can excite, making Darwin a real handful for any side in the competition with their star-power across the board.

On the other hand, Waratah has struggled to exit second gear after an outstanding 2018/19 campaign and had its depth tested far more with the absence of Abe Ankers last week. He remains the key man for them with his scoreboard impact from midfield, despite some of the scoring load eased by VFL-listed small forward Steve Stroobants. Scoreboard assistance is sure to come in the form of Henry Kerinaiua and Kim Kantilla, with Cam Barrett, Sam Godden and ex-Bendigo Pioneer Laine Fitzgerald looking to make an impact further afield. The Warriors have been unlucky to come up against three in-form teams to start the season, but will be sure to give it a red-hot crack if their consistency last season is anything to go by. The memory of their 2018/19 thrashings of Darwin late in the season would also be fresh and serve as apt motivation, with the Buffs looking like a true premiership contender at this point. Expect their class to shine through, but to be tested depending on who is available.

WANDERERS (4th 1-0-1) vs. NIGHTCLIFF (3rd, 2-0)
Saturday October 19, 7:30pm
TIO Stadium

The game of the round will be the last for the weekend, as Wanderers and Nightcliff battle it out to remain undefeated. It serves as the only fixture this week between two teams in finals spots, with the Tigers one of three 2-0 sides while Wanderers suffered the first blemish to its record with a draw to Southern Districts last time out. If football math ever worked, this would be a time to use it given both sides have already faced the Crocs, with the Tigers managing to get the better of them in Round 1’s grand final rematch. But that kind of analysis is hardly useful this early in the piece, and does not take into account the x-factor that Wanderers can bring. Under-17 star utility Joel Jeffrey leads the way in that department, followed closely by Round 1 Rising Star nominee Ronald Fejo Jnr. Both have been impactful thus far, particularly up forward, with consistency of Shane Thorne and spark of Davin Ferreira set to come into play too in the absence of experienced star Marlon Motlop from last campaign. There is still a raft of players of the same name making a difference this time around, and the Muk Muks will need all of their talent to continue Wanderers’ promising start.

Nightcliff remains the biggest test in the competition though, starting with a perfect record against good opposition despite not yet clinching that top spot. The Tigers’ scoring power is scary and comes from a raft of players, including the likes of NT legend Cam Ilett, with others like Trent Melville, Matthew Bricknell and Wade Derksen still due to claim a big bag. Ex-Port forward John Butcher is another who can come back into the side and slot through multiple goals, making Nightcliff’s forward threats every bit as deep as any other side. It could be a case of the ultra-consistent and high-scoring Tigers bringing Wanderers back down to earth, but do not be surprised to see the Eagles give the reigning premier a good run on the back of some confidence gained over the first two rounds.

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