There will be a new captain leading the Kookaburras out in their upcoming FIH Hockey Pro League series in Hobart after coach Colin Batch announced a change to the leadership of Australia men.
Defender Jeremy Hayward, who had a standout 2023 World Cup, will assume the captaincy for the matches against Argentina and Spain next week.
The decision by Batch to explore options within the squad to captain the team is a significant one, considering it is a role that has been shared by Eddie Ockenden and Aran Zalewski since Mark Knowles’ retirement after the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Australia dropped from the top to world No 4 in the latest rankings.
“We were really happy with how Eddie and Aran were leading the team but we now feel the time is right to open up the leadership for the rest of the year,” said Batch.
“They were both in favour of what we wanted to do and are thinking about the bigger picture with the team. This is not to say they won’t have a leadership role in the future…what we are doing is opening it up.”
“Looking back to last year, after the Commonwealth Games the focus went straight into preparing for the World Cup, so that wasn’t the time to start changing leadership.”
“It puts some other players on notice and gives them an opportunity to lead the team and show some leadership within that.”
Hayward, who notched up his 200th international appearance at the World Cup, was the tournament’s top goal scorer and named the Best Defender, was a fitting choice to captain the team in Hobart according to Batch.
“Jeremy gets an opportunity in Hobart so we’ll see how he leads the team. First and foremost we still want them to be themselves and to play their usual standard of game, so nothing will change for Jerry,” said Batch.
“Our captains have always had good support around them and it’s not solely one person. We share different responsibilities on the pitch, so I’ve got no doubt Jeremy will do a great job and he’ll be supported by Eddie and Aran.”
LISTEN: Colin Batch on captaincy changes
After the series in Hobart, the Kookaburras depart straight to India for a series against the host nation and World Champions Germany.
Batch said: “We have had leaders in the Kookaburras over many years who have done that…led by example and I think Jeremy will definitely fit into that mould.”
For 29 year old Hayward, who made his Kookaburras debut in 2014, taking on the responsibility of captaining the team is a duty he is humbled to fulfil.
“I’m lost for words. It’s a special thing to lead the boys out…but it’s more that the coaches and the team have the faith in me leading them,” said Hayward.
“Ed and Aran are both good friends. They’re very good at what they do so I have learnt a lot from them.”