Brisbane Blaze have engulfed the One Hockey Cup leaderboard with a pair of entertaining victories away to rivals HC Melbourne, lifting them into first position and seemingly securing their JDH Hockey One League semi-finals berths.
Brisbane Blaze Women stoked their title aspirations with a convincing 5-2 defeat of HC Melbourne courtesy of two goals from Savannah Fitzpatrick and a thunderbolt from Hockeyroo sensation Steph Kershaw.
Then a defensive masterclass led by Corey Weyer has seen the Brisbane Blaze Men scorch HC Melbourne 3-1 to improve their table position to second.
HC Melbourne Women were met by an orange tsunami in the opening quarter as the Blaze completely dominated the territorial battle, but it took until the 13th minute to open the scoring through Madison Fitzpatrick’s trademark penalty corner flick.
It burst the dam wall temporarily with Fitzpatrick feeding sibling Savannah for a well-executed penalty corner routine back to the injector just two minutes later to double the visitors advantage at quarter time.
HC Melbourne, featuring Hockeyroo star Amy Lawton in a more advanced role, wrestled momentum back when Ash Utri knocked home from close range after a penalty corner breakdown, before duly converting the opportunity to level the scores with aplomb.
But the match was broken open by a piece of individual brilliance from Kershaw, with the midfielder initially stealing possession deep inside her half before launching a tomahawk strike into the top bins.
Kershaw repeated the dose by outfoxing HC Melbourne star Rachael Lynch with a close range upright reverse finish to stretch the scoreboard to 4-2 at half-time.
The two rivals traded opportunities after the interval with Nicola Hammond going close after a mesmerising Lawton run, while Lynch was called into a triple save to keep the Blaze from extending their advantage.
But the forward pressure of the Blaze was the key difference with their ability to earn turnovers high up the park and a seemingly inevitable fifth goal eventually came with Savannah Fitzpatrick completing a carbon copy of her earlier goal.
HC Melbourne midfield duo Krissy Bates and Hammond led the charge in the final term, but the Blaze held firm to surge into top spot, ahead of the Perth Thundersticks’ visit to Adelaide on Sunday.
“It definitely felt like the presses we’ve been working on over the weeks have started to come together,” Blaze captain Morgan Gallagher said post-match.
“It was a high-pressure game and we tried to focus on our press and getting those conversions, so we’re really happy with that performance.”
In the men’s match, Brisbane Blaze were forced to dig deep to prevail over the home side. Ably assisted by Kookaburra Tim Howard at the heart of defence, Weyer seemingly initiated the Blaze’s best moves throughout and sent an early signal of his brilliance in the 8th minute.
Weyer fed Jake Whetton at full pace, who in turn crashed a tomahawk pass across the penalty spot that was clinically knocked in by Cale Cramer for his fourth goal of the campaign.
The scores remained unchanged after Cramer was denied a conversion goal by HC Melbourne keeper Johan Durst.
Incredibly, Scott Boyde tipped over from just three yards out moments later under pressure from Durst as the match descended into a captivating yet frenetic arm wrestle.
The first quarter ended with Nathan Ephraums and Eden Davis unable to direct difficult chances goalward.
Brisbane went on a run of three consecutive penalty corner opportunities to start the second term, started by Damon Steffens’ cynical challenge on the ever dangerous Jacob Anderson, but a goal from Weyer was correctly ruled out by the officials.
After half chances again fell to Ephraums and Davis, Blaze keeper Mitch Nicholson made a brilliant outstretched save to protect their narrow lead into half-time.
The home crowd found their voice straight after the main break when Ben White tipped home on the goal line to level the scores, but an unfortunate slip cruelled his chances on a conversion goal.
The action remained end-to-end with Anderson and Ephraums wooing the crowd with their driving runs at either end for their respective sides, before the winner was clinched by Boyde.
Again it was a goal created by Weyer’s connection with Whetton, with the latter’s relentless attack on the ball serving the goal on a plate for the New Zealand international to score in the 41st minute.
The Black Stick Olympic hopeful then followed up to squeeze home a clinical reverse stick strike to stretch the scores to 3-1.
There was still time for late drama, with the Blaze reduced to nine men late on and Jordan Rees earning HC Melbourne some late set piece opportunities.
But in the spirit of ending the match as it had started, HC Melbourne’s rush of blood to just jam the ball back through the head of the circle was able to be negated by the winners.
“I’m really, really proud of the boys. It was a tough last couple of minutes where we knew they were going to come with everything they had and we defended really well in that last little bit,” Whetton said post-game.
“I think this new (conversion) rule is great for the game, you know, to have an after-the-siren chance to draw it, that’s what we wanted as a hockey community to create excitement.”
Every match of the JDH Hockey One League 2023 Season is LIVE and free on 7plus.
Match report courtesy of Adam Clifford
Match Details – Women’s Match
HC Melbourne 2 (A.Utri 19’/19’)
Brisbane Blaze 5 (M.Fitzpatrick 13’, S.Fitzpatrick 15’/45+’, Kershaw 28’/28’)
Friday 3 November 2023
Melbourne Sports Centre – Parkville
HC Melbourne Women’s team: 2.Aisling Utri (c), 3.Nicola Hammond, 4.Amy Lawton, 5.Krissy Bates, 7.Ciara Utri, 9.Carly James, 10.Rosario Villagra, 11.Joanne Peeters, 13.Megan Alakus, 14.Laura Barden, 15.Olivia Downes, 20.Zali Ward, 22.Charlotte Hodgson, 23.Samantha Snow, 27.Rachael Lynch (gk)
Brisbane Blaze Women’s team: 1.Savannah Fitzpatrick, 2.Rosie Malone, 3.Kendra Fitzpatrick, 4.Claire Colwill, 5.Morgan Gallagher (c), 6.Hannah Cullum-Sanders, 9.Casey Dolkens, 10.Madison Fitzpatrick, 11.Morgan Mathison, 12.Tatum Stewart, 13.Rebecca Greiner, 14.Stephanie Kershaw, 15.Jade Reid, 22.Britt Wilkinson, 88.Jordan Bliss (gk)
Match Details – Men’s Match
HC Melbourne 1 (White 33’)
Brisbane Blaze 3 (Cramer 9’, Boyde 41’/41’)
Friday 3 November 2023
Melbourne Sports Centre – Parkville
HC Melbourne Men’s team: 5.Douglas Buckley, 6.Damon Steffens (c), 7.Nathan Ephraums, 8.Lachlan Steinfort, 9.Nathan Copey,10.Brad Marais, 12.Connar Otterbach, 13.Jayshaan Randhawa, 14.James Knee, 15.Josh Simmonds, 18.Johan Durst (gk), 19.Jordan Rees, 22.Ben White, 26.Eden Davis, 29.Nicholas Fitzgerald
Brisbane Blaze Men’s team: 2.Shane Kenny, 3.Corey Weyer, 5.Lucas Brown, 7.Liam Hart, 9.Jacob Anderson, 10.Cale Cramer, 11.Michael Francis, 12.Jake Whetton (c), 13.David Hubbard, 16.Tim Howard, 17.Scott Boyde, 19.Luke Randle, 21.Max Harding, 23.Daniel Beale, 32.Mitchell Nicholson (gk)