Men’s Hockey Preview | Kookas seeking sixth-straight title

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IMAGE | Michael Willson

 

The world number one Kookaburras will be out to retain their perfect gold medal record at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast where they head in as favourites.

 

By Ben Somerford

 

Australia have won gold at every Commonwealth Games since hockey’s introduction into the event in 1998. It’s a proud history, where the Kookaburras’ only ever defeat occurred in 1998.

In fact, the Kookaburras have won 27 matches straight in Commonwealth Games competition, so expectations will clearly be high.

A lot has changed among the Kookaburras’ team since 2014, with 11 players without Commonwealth Games experience in the 2018 group.

Australia defeated India 4-0 in the gold medal match four years ago in Glasgow, with top scorer Chris Ciriello netting a hat-trick in the decider, but he’s since retired. The Kookaburras also toppled the Indians 8-0 in Delhi in 2010.

The Kookaburras are ranked first in the world currently, while India (sixth), England (seventh), New Zealand (ninth), Canada (11th) and Malaysia (12th) are all contenders.

Australia recently won the Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia where they overcame India, England and the hosts in a positive sign, finishing with a perfect six wins from six games.

Australia are grouped in Pool A against Trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand who they’ll face in a huge round robin fixture on Wednesday 11 April.

Canada, South Africa (15th) and Scotland (23rd) are also in the Kookas’ pool, with little recent experience against any of those sides.

The Kookaburras have had the wood on the Black Sticks in recent times, winning their past seven encounters, including twice during the Oceania Cup in Sydney in October where Australia triumphed 6-0 in the decider.

Remarkably, Australia have a dominant history over the Black Sticks at the Oceania Cup, winning all 10 events.

The old Australia-England rivalry also simmers away, with the Kookaburras knocking off England in the Azlan Shah Cup final recently, although it was far from comfortable, triumphing 2-1.

The Kookaburras’ failure to win a medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics has been well-documented but this is a new group playing under a new coaching staff with a new style.

There are constants, such as retiring skipper Mark Knowles and 300-gamer Eddie Ockenden but there’s also a new breed of exciting young talent given opportunities under experienced coach Colin Batch.

Cool bespectacled defender Matt Dawson has overcome a freak training ground eye injury to take his part, while speedy midfielder Tom Craig and penalty corner specialist Jeremy Hayward are players to watch in their maiden Commonwealth Games.

Australia’s first match is against South Africa on Saturday 7 April from 4.30pm AEST.

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