|The Kookaburras upped the tempo late in the game to take the opening match 3-1 against the Vantage Black Sticks in the Sentinel Homes Trans-Tasman series in Palmerston North tonight.|
In the women’s clash, the treats were shared with a 1-1 draw thanks to some late magic from Manawatū local Olivia Shannon.
In the men’s match, a cracking goal from Black Sticks debutant Sean Findlay gave the 1000-plus crowd at the new Massey University turf something to cheer about, but it wasn’t enough against the top Australian side.
Vantage Black Sticks Head Coach Darren Smith said there were a few nerves after 15 months away from international action.
“It would have been nice to put some pressure on them at 1-1. I was little disappointed with the way we finished.”
The Black Sticks lost their captain Blair Tarrant in the first few minutes after being hit in the face by Tom Wickham firing the ball goalward. With some stitches to the left eyebrow, Smith decided not to risk the skipper for the rest of the game.
A scoreless first half saw both teams shaking off some rust after not playing for nearly 15 months due to Covid-19 interruptions.
Australia finally broke the deadlock midway through the third quarter with Tim Brand latching on to a brilliant no look reverse pass from Daniel Beale at the top of the circle to give the Kookaburras a 1-0 lead.
The visitors came alive after the goal with their tempo in attack going up a notch and they constantly put the Kiwi defence under pressure.
The Black Sticks finally got on the scoreboard midway through the final quarter, with stand-in skipper Hugo Inglis taking a quick free hit and Findlay calmly firing the ball into the goal from the top right of the circle.
The Kookaburras struck straight back with Trent Mitton knocking in a rebound after two good saves from George Enerson. Wickham popped in a third for the Kookaburras to give the visitors first bragging rights in the series.
Also making their Black Sticks debuts tonight were Wellington defender Oliver MacIntyre and Hawke’s Bay striker Sam Hiha, while the side welcomed back Manawatū local Nick Wilson who last played for his country five years ago at the Rio Olympics.
Smith praised the coolly taken goal on debut from Findlay.
“He should be proud of his efforts tonight and he scored a very well taken goal for his country.”
Kookaburras 3 (Tim Brand 39 min, Trent Mitton 57 min, Tom Wickham 60 min) Vantage Black Sticks 1 (Sean Findlay 54 min) Halftime: 0-0.
|Olivia Shannon grabbed the equaliser for the Black Sticks|
| Meanwhile in the women’s clash, the Hockeyroos opened the scoring near the end of the second quarter with Rosie Malone slotting in an easy goal when advantage was played after a Kiwi foot in the circle.|
The home side wasn’t able to convert numerous penalty corners, and early in the second half Julia King couldn’t control the ball in front of an open goal.
Late in the third spell Olivia Merry intercepted a defensive pass and fired it goalward but the Australian keeper Jocelyn Bartram was up to the task.
But it was Shannon on home turf who touched the ball between her legs from a Sam Charlton cross to finally claim the equaliser in the fourth quarter.
The Black Sticks held off multiple late attacks from the Hockeyroos to keep the score at 1-1.
Hockeyroos 1 (Rosie Malone 26 min) Vantage Black Sticks 1 (Olivia Shannon 48 min) Halftime: 1-0 Hockeyroos
Tomorrow night sees the men play first again at 5.30pm followed by the women at 7.30pm.