By The Hockey Paper
Australia’s two national sides will have revenge on their minds when they face the Netherlands in their FIH Hockey Pro League openers.
Who can forget Eddie Ockenden’s dramatic equaliser 30 seconds from time as the Kookaburras levelled against the Dutch in their World Cup semi-finals? Australia’s players for one, as they ended up losing the shoot-out before finishing with bronze.
Earlier last summer, the Hockeyroos lost out to the world No 1 women’s outfit the same way – and were then defeated in the last ever Champions Trophy final.
Now, the two green and gold teams are ready to wipe away 2018 as a new dawn sets on world hockey in 2019.
Kookaburras’ forward Aaron Kleinschmidt said ahead of this weekend’s Pro League double headers against the Dutch and Belgium that Australia had something to prove.
“Playing against the European teams in Australia is really good, especially the number one and number three,” he said. “There’s a little bit of revenge on the table to beat the Dutch.
“And it’s always good to beat the Belgians as well given they’re the World Cup champions. We’d like to take them down a level.”
Fifteen matches will be played in Melbourne, Hobart, Perth and Sydney in February and March, before the Australian sides head overseas to play in Asia, the Americas and Europe during April to June.
“All the games so far have been really high scoring which I love. I think Hockey people like to watch that. We’re hoping to bring something similar, fast-paced high scoring game,” said Kleinschmidt.
The clashes feature the three best men’s teams in the world, with World Cup winner Belgium, Australia and Netherlands ranked No. 1, 2 and 3 respectively.
Kookaburras coach Colin Batch said the squad was selected with an eye on Tokyo 2020 and the future. “It’s a balanced selection for Melbourne … we’re looking at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and what that might bring so we’re looking to give people an opportunity, starting with the FIH Pro League,” Batch said.
The world No.3 Hockeyroos will see the return of Georgia Wilson and Mariah Williams after long-term injuries.
Wilson’s Commonwealth Games dream was curtailed when she ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament last year. Meanwhile Williams also missed the Games due to a debilitating adductor injury.
Coach Paul Gaudoin said the pair had put in “a lot of hard work” and at the same time was wary of world champions Netherlands and the improving Belgium side.
“Holland are the best team in the world and it’s a great test for us to start the FIH Pro League,” Gaudoin noted. “Belgium as well, both games are going to be very tough. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
The Hockeyroos have had a change in their leadership structure after a review of their fourth place finish at the London World Cup, with current captain Emily Chalker joined by Jodie Kenny and Georgina Morgan in a familiar captaincy trio.
“We always wanted to re-assess the leadership structure following the World Cup, so with our 2019 programme commencing earlier this month, now is an opportune time,” Gaudoin said.
With 31 goals in the first six women’s and men’s matches in the inaugural Pro League, the theme has been one of entertainment – even with Olympic qualification on the line
“I’m really excited. I think it’s such a good idea,” Kleinschmidt said.
“All the good teams get to play each other each year. They get to come to Australia and play us and we go overseas to play them.
“All the games so far have been really high scoring which I love. I think Hockey people like to watch that. We’re hoping to bring something similar, fast-paced high scoring game.”
Kookaburras v Netherlands — 3pm (local)
Hockeyroos v Netherlands — 5pm
Kookaburras v Belgium — 3pm
Hockeyroos v Belgium — 5pm