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Ainslie to represent Canberra in NEAFL elimination final against NT Thunder

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Lee Gaskin and Nathan Beuman

Ainslie's Aaron Vandenberg and Nick Salter have been named in the NEAFL team of the year.

Ainslie's Aaron Vandenberg and Nick Salter have been named in the NEAFL team of the year. Photo: Melissa Adams

Ainslie coach Chris Rourke says it's up to his side to provide a bright spark for ACT footy as the sole Canberra representative in the North East Australian Football League finals.

After a drama-filled season featuring Belconnen and Queanbeyan playing their final games in the competition, the Tricolours will look to put the region on the map for the right reasons in Saturday night's elimination final against the NT Thunder in Darwin.

Ainslie's reward for finishing sixth is a daunting trip to TIO Stadium facing a quality opposition, unfamilar weather conditions and an expected crowd of 5000 Thunder fans.

But Rourke says his side is up for the challenge and hopes to put a smile on the faces of Canberra footy supporters.

"Canberra footy's been hit really hard this year and we've copped criticism from all over the place," Rourke said.

"We would love to give it a good shot and show what Canberra footy's about.

"Nobody has done Canberra footy any favours this year.

"This is probably typical that unfortunately because of where we finish we have the worst trip in Australia."

Ainslie flew out of Canberra on Friday preparing themselves for humid tempartures of 26 degrees at the first bounce at 7.30pm.

"[The conditions in Darwin] will be huge," Rourke said.

"We've just got to cope with it.

"We haven't played on the ground, we haven't played in those conditions so it's tough, but it's also a challenge for us and hopefully we can do Canberra proud."

Ainslie  has performed the best out of all the Canberra teams in the competition this season, achieving 12 wins and six losses from 18 games to secure its place in the finals in front of Belconnen (6-12), Queanbeyan (4-14) and Eastlake (3-15).

Eastlake and Ainslie will remain in the NEAFL next year while Belconnen and Queanbeyan will return to the AFL Canberra first-division competition.

Ainslie has been rewarded with two representatives – Aaron Vandenberg at rover and Nick Salter at centre half-forward – for its perforamance this year.

Vandenberg said it was a "bit of an unknown feeling" facing the Thunder.

"Nothing would be better than going in and beating a top side that hasn't lost at home, but I think we are going in with our heads up and hope for the best."

Salter has been a great recruit for Ainslie in his first season at the club after playing 21 games in six seasons with Port Adelaide in the AFL.

The 27-year-old knows everything will have to go right if the Tricolours are to inflict the Thunder's first loss at home this season.

"They are a highly skilled team," Salter said.

"We are just going to play the way we want to play and hopefully we come away with the win."

NEAFL ELIMINATION SEMI-FINAL: NT Thunder v Ainslie Tricolours on Saturday at TIO Stadium, 7.30pm.

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