Monday, August 15, 2022

Commonwealth Games Hockey: Australia and New Zealand out to defend titles

Birmingham — Will there be any stopping Australia men’s 24-year hockey stranglehold at the Commonwealth Games?

Since 1998 and hockey’s introduction to the Games, the Kookaburras have gleaned gold at every competition. This hasn’t been for a lack of competition. They have simply dominated the event. Further, they have ended atop the world rankings 10 times since they came into being in 2003.

Eddie Ockenden, the 35-year-old aiming for a fourth gold here as Kookaburras co-captain, told ABC Sport: “I think a strength is [being able to] harness that young talent and raw ability, and we try to be a welcoming environment for people to improve quickly and prosper when we come over to Perth together.”

The Olympic men’s silver medallists have been training under the radar in Perth since Tokyo – Covid restricting both defending Commonwealth champions, with New Zealand attempting to also retain their gold from the Gold Coast.

New Zealand and Australia are pitted in the same men’s pool at the University of Birmingham, with South Africa, Pakistan, and Scotland.

“Things like the Commonwealth Games, you can go realistically, and we can put that expectation that we want to do well there, we want to play the finals, and we want to win,” Ockenden added.

Ockenden will join Aussie great Mark Knowles as the second hockey player to compete in four Games. “There’s been so many different teams and different people that have been put into that and we really celebrate the history of the Kookaburras,” he said.

History was made on the Gold Coast four years ago when New Zealand won cantered to gold in the women’s final, beating Australia 4-1  in their backyard.

Four players remain from that win – co-captain Merry, Tarryn Davey, Frances Davies, and Grace O’Hanlon, the Black Sticks goalkeeper.

The Kiwis are in a pool with Australia, South Africa, Kenya, and Scotland, the clash against their trans-Tasman rivals the standout tie for an almost-certain table-topping clash.

Like England, the Black Sticks exited at the Women’s World Cup last eight stage and will be keen to go deeper at the Commonwealth Games.

“This is an exciting time for our women’s programme with quite a young team as we look to rebuild a little bit,” interim head coach Darren Smith told New Zealand media.

“However, the 18 we have selected are all incredibly talented and more than capable of going toe-to-toe with any side in the world.”

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