Two goals in each half have seen the Kookaburras withstand a strong challenge from New Zealand to finish their FIH Pro League ‘mini tournament’ with a 4-2 victory in Christchurch.
Backing up less than 24 hours after their shootout win over Great Britain, the Kookaburras led 2-1 at half time courtesy of Jack Welch and Ky Willott.
Joel Rintala then scored his seventh goal in three games before a fortuitous last quarter strike from Aran Zalewski ensured the Kookaburras took eight points out of a possible 12 from their four matches.
For the fourth straight game, the Kookaburras had a fast start when Welch ghosted in at the near post to meet a well hit drive from Jake Harvie and expertly glance it in.
However, the lead lasted barely a minute as the Black Sticks equalised. Kookaburras goalkeeper Johan Durst made a fine initial save but he could not keep out Kim Kingstone’s follow up as he drilled the ball into the backboard.
The Kookaburras’ lead was restored in the 19th minute when they scored one of the goals of the series. Harvie started it with a superbly controlled bring down from an aerial ball deep in his own half. He found Josh Beltz in the middle channel before sending a perfectly weighted pass to Rintala, who sent a tantalising squaring ball to Willott in the circle and he hammered the ball first time past Leon Hayward in the Black Sticks goal.
Hayward ensured the Kookaburras did not double their advantage heading into half time with a sharp double save from a penalty corner.
Black Sticks substitute goalkeeper George Enersen prevented Anand Gupte from scoring his maiden Kookaburras goal from a penalty corner, but from the repeat set play Rintala would not be denied with another missile drag flick to make it 3-1.
Jake Whetton tried to beat Enersen at his near post but the Black Sticks keeper kept it out, before the Kookaburras were forced to absorb two threatening moments from the hosts.
New Zealand won their first penalty corner with two seconds left in the third quarter and they made it count as Hayden Phillips’ deflection was illegally stopped on the line to see a penalty stroke awarded.
Simon Child calmly converted his stroke past Andrew Charter to set up a grandstand last quarter.
Two minutes into the last quarter Zalewski snuffed out any thought of a Black Sticks comeback when his ball from inside the circle aimed towards Welch caused his marker David Brydone to turn the ball into his own net.
Some exquisite skill from Craig Marais won the Kookaburras another penalty corner with six minutes left but Welch sent his drag flick wide.
A crucial tackle deep in defence from Gupte prevented the Black Sticks from mounting a late charge as the Kookaburras head home with their fourth outright win of this FIH Pro League campaign.
“We knew New Zealand would come at us and I think we held on pretty strongly so to score four goals and keep them to two was a great team effort,” said Kookaburras midfielder Lachlan Sharp.
“It’s a young team we have here so we have been building throughout these Pro League mini tournaments and hopefully we can continue it for the rest of the season.”
The Kookaburras will return home ahead of their European leg of the FIH Pro League starting in June.
New Zealand 2 (Kingstone 4’, Child 45+’)
Kookaburras 4 (Welch 3’, Willott 19’, Rintala 38’, Zalewski 47’)
@ Nga Puna Wai Hockey Stadium, Christchurch
Kookaburras: 1.Lachlan Sharp, 4.Jake Harvie, 7.Nathan Ephraums, 8.Johan Durst (gk), 10.Josh Beltz, 11.Eddie Ockenden, 12.Jake Whetton, 16.Tim Howard, 17.Aran Zalewski, 19.Craig Marais, 20.Ky Willott, 21.Jack Welch, 23.Daniel Beale (c), 26.James Collins, 27.Joel Rintala, 30.Andrew Charter (gk), 33.Hayden Beltz, 36.Anand Gupte