Ilett named NT Thunder Club Champion for record sixth time

Northern Territory Thunder foundation player and former New Zealand representative Cameron Ilett has signed off his brilliant career with the Club by winning his sixth Club Champion award.

 

As an indicator of his dominance of the trophy over almost a decade, only three other players have won it – Jake Dignan, Jason Roe and Richard Tambling – in Thunder’s entire nine-year history.

You might say he’s made the award his own and the Club has announced that from this year forward, it will be known as the Ilett Medal to recognize his and elder brother Jarred’s enormous contribution to the Thunder concept.

Now retired, Jarred was also a foundation Thunder player, captained the side in its first two seasons and was the Club’s CEO from 2012 to 2014.

Cameron’s Club Champion wins have come in 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014, 2016 and now 2017.

He was also captain from 2011 (premiership year) to 2014 (co-captain with Aaron Motlop in 2014).

Few players anywhere in the country have been such an influential figure on a club.

Thunder coach Andrew Hodges said he wasn’t surprised by Ilett making it a round half-a-dozen Club Champion awards.

“Obviously he’s a really consistent performer and has been very important to the footy club over that journey so for him to win the award again is no surprise after the season he had,” Hodges said.

“He’s just really important, when we needed someone to stand up he was generally the one we looked to and you know he generally stood up.

““His effort and attitude is second to none and to see him spend just as much time with the young footballers coming through the ranks, as he does with his teammates who have been there with him from day one, or the volunteers that fill water bottles on game day is very humbling and sums him up to a tee,” Hodges said.

Hodges also said he happily endorsed the award being named after the two Ilett brothers.

“They’ve been big parts of the footy club and it’s just great to recognise the commitment and loyalty they’ve shown the footy club over those nine years and their legacy will live on in the Ilett Medal and it’ll be a pretty prestigious award to win over the coming years,” he said.

Ilett’s latest victory, with 139 votes, was 19 ahead of young guns Abraham Ankers and Sam Smith on 120, who were equal second.

Club and league leading goal kicker Darren Ewing was third on 119, Nicholas Yarran fourth on 104 and Braedon McLean fifth with 100 votes.

Ilett, who was also runner-up in the NEAFL MVP award this season, had to come from behind to win the club award. After 10 rounds he was in second place, four votes behind defender Daniel Weetra, but leapt into the lead the next round with a nine-vote performance against Canberra.

The talismanic on-baller was pipped for best afield in that 91-point triumph though by a 10-vote performance from full forward Darren Ewing, who booted 10 goals, including his 700th in Thunder colours.

Best on ground performances in the next three rounds (13, 14 and 15) built a 10-vote buffer for Ilett, which would only grow as the season progressed to its conclusion.

In all, Ilett was considered best on ground or equal best in seven of the 18 rounds, plus the elimination final. He polled the second highest number of votes in nine other games, meaning he was considered Thunder’s best, equal best or second best player in 16 of the team’s 19 matches during its 2017 campaign.

Ilett was also named the players’ player, as voted by the players during the season.

It all just serves to underline the loss the 32-year-old will be to the side next season as he retires from NEAFL level.

Ruckman Ryan Smith (equal 11th place) has also announced his retirement, but there’s still no official word out of the Ewing camp, with fans hopeful it means he will play on in 2018.

His third-place finish in the Ilett Medal and his 64 goals to win both the Club and league goal-kicking competitions, is an indication of just how much he brings to Thunder’s forward line.

The awards do provide much hope for Thunder fans as a new era begins with added reliance on a group of young stars.

Joint runners-up, on-baller Ankers and defender Smith are 22 and 21-years-old respectively.

Ankers also took home the award for best under 23 talent while Smith was adjudged to be the most improved player in the squad through the season.

“It was really pleasing for two young guys like that to come into the Club and Abe, it’s his second time with the Club and Sam coming in for the first time,” Hodges said.

“Both showed maturity beyond their years. At times on the field they were very composed and again, when we really needed players to stand up those two generally, Sam across half-back would take defensive marks and used the ball well and always shut down his opponent or broke even and Abe’s ability to win the ball around the stoppages and get clearances was really pleasing for us.”

The fourth and fifth place getters in the Ilett Medal, Yarran and McLean, are just 19 and 23-years-old themselves. Yarran also picked up the community and media player-of-the-year award for the individual who has given most to the community in the media space.

The most courageous player award went to 20-year-old Michael Coombes and 21-year-old Tom Davies was considered the most professional.

Adam Sambono picked up a Thunder rookie-of-the-year award to go with the NEAFL equivalent he’s already won this year and after 10 rounds was equal fourth in the Ilett Medal before representative commitments and illness forced the 20-year-old down the leader board.

Veteran Scott McLeod rounded out the awards with the clubman-of-the-year award.

Early pacesetter in the Ilett Medal, Weetra, led Ilett by four votes after 10 rounds, but finished ninth overall with 93 votes.

Injury unfortunately hindered the silky defender’s season in the back half, no doubt leaving the 26-year-old wondering if he could have challenged Ilett for top honours if that hadn’t been the case.

Hodges praised the award winners, but also the whole Thunder list for their professionalism during the season.

“The guys who have won awards have really deserved it,” he said. “They’ve put in a lot of hard work during the year, as have the whole squad, and to see some guys recognised, it’s great. Some guys were pretty unlucky to miss out, they had fantastic seasons and we want to come back bigger and stronger next year so the fellas are pretty keen to go a bit further next year.”

The coach reserved special praise for the team of volunteers, which makes it possible to field a team at all.

“Without them we just don’t operate,” he explained. “We had the sad news about David Bywaters, who came into the Club this year, he was at every training session, every home game, setting up water bottles, handing out water bottles to the guys as they came through the interchange gate as they came off the ground and unfortunately he passed away a few weeks ago and just the commitment those types of people show is what makes footy clubs great.

“We’re really lucky to have a good, committed volunteer base, whether it’s in Darwin, Alice Springs, Brisbane, Sydney or Canberra, they just do an amazing job and we’re really lucky to have them and from the bottom of my heart I thank them for all the work that they’ve done,” Hodges said.

So despite the loss of Thunder stalwarts in Ilett and Ryan Smith, the prevailing mood from the Club’s awards night was one of great optimism for the future, not only because of the playing skills on show by its younger brigade during the season, but also the leadership qualities such a young group has displayed and the off-field support backing up the squad.

 

Story – ntthunder.com.au