• Andrew Hodges and Xavier Clarke at TIO Stadium (Facebook / NT Thunder)Source: Facebook / NT Thunder
Ahead of his maiden season as head coach of NT Thunder in the NEAFL, Andrew Hodges says it’s a special responsibility to lead a club which represents so much more than football.
Will Davies

31 Mar 2017 - 4:57 PM  UPDATED 31 Mar 2017 - 4:57 PM

Andrew Hodges is no stranger to Australian Rules football in the Northern Territory but on Saturday night he will lead the region’s most senior men’s team for the first time.

Having taken the reigns late last year after Xavier Clarke vacated the position to join Richmond as a development coach, Hodges is fully aware of the special place football has in many Territorian’s hearts.

“People love their footy up here and it is part of the culture,” Hodges told NITV.

“It plays a massive part in the community. It’s very important as well to help young men be the best they can, on and off the field.

“It’s a strong part of Indigenous culture. You go to any community, there’ll be kids kicking footballs and being involved in football in some capacity. So it plays a massive part in their lives and the Territory life in general.”

Hodges grew up in Alice Springs and played plenty of football there, as well as in Darwin after moving north ahead of starting his journey as a coach.

Having led multiple NT junior representative teams and academy sides before joining Thunder as an assistant coach in 2014, Hodges says he’s proud to now lead an organisation that represents more than just the sport it plays.

“We do have a strong Indigenous content in our club,” he said.

“We celebrate that, obviously. There’s components of our song with Indigenous language in it and we wear our Indigenous jumper proudly in Indigenous round and throughout the year. Indigenous culture is a really important part of our football club.”

Hodges is also proud of the work the club is doing with its members outside of football.

“It’s really important with our program that we set some pretty strong values and behaviours that we expect from the boys … they’ve got to be working or engaged in education or study or doing something like that.

“Even though we’re a football program, we do a lot of work with the boys off the field as well to make sure that they’re living a good life and being the best they possibly can.”

“Even though we’re a football program, we do a lot of work with the boys off the field as well to make sure that they’re living a good life and being the best they possibly can.”

The Thunder have been a part of the North East Australian Football League since its inception in 2011, and won two premierships that first year.

Hodges says the benefit of having a Northern Territory team compete in a premier second-tier AFL competition is immense.

“I think it’s extremely important, the Thunder, it provides an opportunity for young Territorians to be able to stay at home with family, work, study – any of those types of things, but still play at a really high level,” he said.

“So it’s really important, our involvement in this competition, to provide that for those guys.

“Some guys have aspirations to go further with their football and this is a great platform for that to happen.

“We’re all about creating opportunities for guys to be the best they can and play at a high level, but still stay at home and live and study and work.”

Thunder host long-time NEAFL rivals Aspley Hornets at TIO Stadium on Saturday and Hodges says it’ll be a special evening for the club.

“The guys are really excited,” he said.

“Obviously to start the season at home, in front of the family and supporters and things like that - it’s important to get our season of to a good start.

“The guys are really focused on their NTFL clubs during the NTFL season, but once they put on that Territory jumper they come together really quickly and they’re really proud to represent their Territory and wear the club colours.

“The beauty of the dynamics up here, we don’t get a traditional pre-season like most other clubs but our guys are in competition playing week-in and week-out. They’re match fit and they’re ready to go and really excited to put on the Thunder jumper come Saturday.”

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