IN a return to our Player Focus piece, we take a look at a South Australian National Football League (SANFL) talent who has really stood out on the League stage. In Round 2 of the competition, our eyes were on West Adelaide key forward/ruck Riley Thilthorpe, who took part in the Bloods’ dramatic draw with Central District.
2 marks (1 contested)
1 goal, 2 behinds
Now a staple among Westies’ League setup, Thilthorpe took the field on the opposing side to fellow South Australian Academy Hub member, Corey Durdin, who was lively for the Bulldogs. Durdin was at the centre of our Player Focus piece last week, and both players have taken to senior football with aplomb.
The Bloods hit the ground running in this game with 6.5 in a hot opening term, and Thilthorpe was the unlikely catalyst. Starting at full-forward, the 200cm prospect had a remarkable first five minutes and was in everything inside West Adelaide’s attacking 50. He notched the first score of the game after snatching the ball from a contest spillage, sending a warning shot to the Bulldogs defenders.
His combination of aerial presence and ground level work helped Westies hit the scoreboard again, but this time with all six points as Thilthorpe again got his hands on a spillage at centre half-forward between three opponents, kept his hands free in a tackle and flicked out a handball to the running Isaac Johnson, who booted the game’s opening major.
Roll forward about a minute longer, and Thilthorpe was impacting the play high on the arc once more, hitting a long centre clearance ball from the side and continuing his momentum to gather the spillage and send a left-foot snap towards goal. The ball would trickle through for a fantastic goal on his wrong side from around 45-metres out, a great effort from the bigman.
Thilthorpe’s reach was also something which stood out, allowing him to get his hands on multiple passes which entered his vicinity even if he started from behind. He did not receive the best delivery early on and often had a Centrals defender sitting in the hole, although his lack of speed off the mark at times saw him caught behind his direct opponent as the ball entered his area.
The potential top five pick continued his solid form heading into the second term, doubling his impact with some work in the ruck at forward half stoppages. That reach of his constantly allowed him to bring the ball to ground despite being outmuscled or out-positioned at times, and a well directed double-handed tap down to Dallas Willsmore almost yielded another goal assist. He had the chance to boot another goal himself too, finding space deep in the forward pocket to mark but hitting the post with his set shot.
He was robbed of another beautiful snap goal in the third term as the ball fell into his lap from the front-and-centre position, before he bent the ball home with confidence. Unfortunately, a free kick was awarded to Central District for an infringement in the marking contest which Thilthorpe sat off. His impact in front of the big sticks did not look like stopping there as he sent Kaine Stevens running into an open goal, only for the star midfielder to fumble his bounce and give the chance away.
While he looked threatening up forward, Thilthorpe also got a run through the ruck rotation, starting a kick behind the ball in general play when it was locked inside the Bloods’ forward 50, and eventually attending a centre bounce. His leap may not be massive, but the Westies youngster managed to get his hand on the ball nicely against Jonathan Marsh.
Thilthorpe looked to be fading out of the game late due to a lack of opportunity and poor delivery once again, but capped off a solid day with a terrific contested mark on defensive wing, something we will be sure to see much more of in future. His work up the ground late proved clutch, despite not being able to help his side get over the line for the win. Once he gains the confidence to leap at the ball more often, those deft touches will turn to eye catching clunks.