Local Sport

Wills Winning Ways

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In one of the most exciting Nichols Medal counts in recent history, three votes to Nightcliff’s Phillip Wills in the final game of the season has seen one of the NTFL’s favourite sons bolt home to claim the League’s top honour.

It is the first Nichols Medal for Wills, who has finished runner-up on three previous occasions and also in the top five in two other seasons.

In a night that paid respect to 70-years since the Nichols Medal got its name, he finished with 20 votes, three clear of his former teammate, Darwin Buffaloes’ co-captain Jarrod Stokes and Southern Districts’ midfielder, Clinton Gallio.

In fourth place was the Southern Districts club best and fairest winner, Dean Staunton (14 votes), with last season’s Nichols Medal winner Cameron Ilett of Nightcliff and St Mary’s’ Nathaniel Paredes tied for fifth place with 13 votes.

At the end of the Round 17 read a trio of winners looked possible. Gallio and Stokes sat at the top on 17 votes and were joined by Wills after he picked up a single vote in Nightcliff’s win over Wanderers.

As the tension built the stage was perfectly set for a slow recount of Round 18. In the second last game to be read aloud, the Darwin Buffaloes suffered a big loss to Waratah, so Stokes was unable to attract any of the umpires’ votes. And in the last game announced, Nightcliff’s 90-point thrashing of Southern Districts meant Gallio was also overlooked as Wills swept up the three-votes to the rapturous applause of his NTFL peers.

Interestingly, Wills didn’t poll a single vote until Round 8.

It was Wills’ teammate and reigning Nichols Medallist, Cameron Ilett who sprinted out of the blocks at the start of the season. Ilett picked up two best on ground performances in the first two games and by Round 5 led all-comers on nine votes.

At the end of Round 5, Gallio and Stokes had each collected six votes, along with Palmerston’s Nathan Deans and Waratah pair, Alexander Aurrichio and Brodie Carroll.

Midway through the season when Wills only had one vote, Gallio and Ilett were the leaders of the pack on 12 votes, with both players polling in five of the first nine rounds.

As the season progressed, some of the top players started to miss games through injury. Gallio didn’t play in Round 11 and then sat out for four games between Rounds 14 to 17, while Ilett suffered a neck injury in Round 14 that had him sidelined until Round 18.

But as the last six rounds of votes were knocked off one at a time, the momentum clearly swung in Wills’ favour. At the same time, Stokes’ fortunes diminished with the Buffs turning in poor on-field performances.

And so, the Nightcliff junior turned Darwin Buffaloes' captain come Nightcliff star once more became the fourth Tiger in eight seasons to be awarded the NTFL’s highest individual accolade.

For winning the Nichols Medal, Wills receives return airfares for two to Melbourne and two tickets to the 2019 Toyota AFL Grand Final thanks to Virgin Australia and the AFL.

Image: AFLNT Media