By KATE ALLMAN
The JDH Hockey One League 2023 Finals are here and the forecast shows a strong chance of unmissable matches and elite international talent in Canberra.
There’s double Pride on the line, plus a chance for the home side Canberra Chill to ice a championship for the first time. Here are four things for fans to watch out for.
History in the making
Pressure is mounting on the NSW Pride Men to claim the Hockey One trophy for a third straight season and an elusive three-peat. It would be the first time a team has recorded an undefeated season in the league’s three-year history. The Pride would join an elite list of sports clubs internationally that have managed undefeated seasons; the 2006 Sydney Swifts netball, the 1925 South Sydney Rabbitohs NRL, the 1972 Miami Dolphins NFL, and the international season of the 2013 New Zealand All Blacks.
But there’s another record to equal. As far as the archives show, just one team managed a three-peat in the former incarnation of Hockey One, the Australian Hockey League (AHL). That was the West Australian Diamonds, the women’s Perth Thundersticks team, who won three years in a row between 2006 and 2008.
Meanwhile, the Canberra Chill women have never managed a premiership in the AHL or Hockey One. Their semi-final against the NSW Pride women offers a chance to make their own history in the nation’s capital.
The Pride Men need to outplay the other big cat in the Tassie Tigers to have a hope of the third title. NSW met Tassie in Round 5 and the Tigers successfully held the red and gold men to a 1-1 draw that went to a shootout that the Pride narrowly won. The Tigers are the only team that came close to beating the defending premiers this season. What do you do when you need to win an important fight? Call in your older brother to assist.
NSW has named Ben Craig to line up alongside his brother Tom in Canberra. His assistance was reportedly the result of an SOS call from Livers (Head Coach Brent Livermore OAM) when the under-21 Burras were plucked out for Junior World Cup duties. Ben will be in familiar territory, having spent all of the 2022 season playing in Canberra for the Chill.
Tassie have also named Josh Beltz, the older brother of Hayden, in their squad. Josh was recovering from a suspected broken hand for most of the regular season but returned in Round 7 and will be integral for the Tigers who snuck into finals after an anxious wait on other results.
The best in the world at home
We already knew it, but Hockey One can officially claim to harbour the best talent in world hockey. As evidence of that, this week, four Australian players were listed as finalists for FIH Hockey Stars Awards. Three of them will take the turf this weekend in Canberra.
Hockeyroo Rosie Malone (Brisbane Blaze) is nominated for Player of the Year (women) and Kookaburra Jeremy Hayward (Tassie Tigers) is nominated for Player of the Year (men). Both Jocelyn Bartram (NSW Pride) and injured goalkeeper Andrew Charter (Canberra Chill) have been shortlisted for the women’s and men’s Goalkeeper of the Year.
While Charter is still rehabbing a hamstring injury, the other three stars will be in action over Saturday and Sunday. The FIH awards are decided by voting, so cast your vote for the Aussies online via the website.
Juniors jump ship
All clubs are facing the prospect of playing a finals series without any help from their under-21 international representatives due to the Burras and the Jillaroos being called into Junior World Cup preparation.
The timing arguably hurts the Brisbane Blaze women the most. The Blaze have five Jillaroos in Claire Colwill, Hannah Cullum-Sanders, Maddie Kenny, Jade Reid and Tatum Stewart.
HC Melbourne men will also be down some star players as Cooper Burns, Craig Marais, Liam Henderson and Nye Roberts all head to Kuala Lumpur with the Burras at the end of the month for the Men’s Junior World Cup.