After 446 days without any international play the Hockeyroos returned to the field last Thursday for the first of four matches against the Black Sticks in Palmerston North, New Zealand.
It was also the first series of matches since the departure of head coach and former Kookaburra Paul Gaudoin in March. The former head coach, who had managed the team since 2016, resigned after a damning independent investigation of the team exposed allegations of bullying, homophobic behaviour and body shaming.
This occurred several months after the threats of strike from his playing squad over the controversial decision to cut 2019 FIH goalkeeper of the year Rachael Lynch and former captain Georgia Morgan from the 2021 contract list.
While both Morgan and Lynch won appeals made over their non-selection last April, the eighteen person Hockeyroos squad for this Trans-Tasman series included only Lynch. Morgan was not selected for the four-game series.
Under the guidance of new head coach Katrina Powell the world number five ranked Hockeyroos faced the number six ranked Black Sticks. The welcomed series was vital preparation for the upcoming 2021 Tokyo Olympics.
The Hockeyroos looked shaky at the start of their first match of the series, which took place on Thursday. A dominating Black Sticks dominated possession creating several opportunities on goal.
However, once the Aussies hit their stride they not only countered their opponents but also supplied the opening goal courtesy of Rosie Malone. The match ended 1-1 after Kiwi Olivia Shannon equalized in the final part of the game.
The decision to reinstate Rachael Lynch paid off. The goalkeeper for this first match back from hiatus, Lynch saved her team several times with a number of blocks.
The second match also ended in draw with a final score of 2-2. For the second match of the series the Aussies started the match with a frantic disorganized demeanour. This allowed the Kiwis the chance to take the lead early on with the score being 2-0 after 35 minutes.
The Aussies were able to compose themselves and fought back. Stephanie Kershaw scored in the third quarter to make it 2-1. The strike of the match however was the second Aussie goal which was scored by a wonderful reverse-stick shot from Mariah Williams.
The third match also resulted in another 2-2 draw. The Aussies scored the opening goal within the first seven minutes of the match, with a goal from Maddie Fitzpatrick. However, the Kiwis scored the next two. The Aussies rescued the draw with less than three minutes left in the game with a goal from Rosie Malone.
The final game of this series saw the Kiwis come out and dominate again. An injury to their key player Whitlock however lead to a change and an Australian opening goal from Stephanie Kershaw. This seemed to change the tide for the Hockeyroos who started to evenly match the BlackSticks. They made it 2-0 just before the half with a Kalindi Commerford goal. However the Kiwis scored when they returned. Just before the end of the third quarter though Savannah Fitzpatrick put it in to restore the two goal Australian advantage and make it 3-1.
The Hockeyroos won the series with this game four win. However, while the results were in favour of the Aussies their performance at times left to be desired. In all four matches the Hockeyroos were dominated early in matches by the BlackSticks.
What seems the reassuring though is that the last two games of the series saw that period of Kiwi dominance seemingly reserved to the opening minutes of the matches. For the remainder of the games were more evenly played and even at times saw Hockeyroos domination.
The Hockeyroos’ next matches are scheduled for the 26th and 27th of June in Perth, Australia. At present this is to be the final preparation prior to the Tokyo Olympics in July.
The squad is aiming for the podium, Australia having finished sixth in Rio de Janeiro and having last medalled in the year 2000 when their coach was a player on the team.