IMAGE | Michael Willson
The Hockeyroos will be aiming for a fourth consecutive gold medal at the Commonwealth Games but 2018’s line-up on the Gold Coast arguably represents their toughest challenge ever.
By Ben Somerford
Australia may have won four of the five Commonwealth Games gold medals since hockey was first played at the tournament in 1998 but go into Gold Coast as the third highest ranked nation.
England (second) and New Zealand (fourth) loom as Australia’s big threats, with the Hockeyroos ranked fifth in the world. India are next best ranked 10th in the world.
Australia did it the hard way four years ago, with Jodie Kenny equalising with 12 seconds to go in the gold medal match against England, before winning in a shootout.
Kenny, who gave birth to her first child Harrison in June, was the top scorer in 2014, with 10 goals.
Playing on home turf will be a big factor for the Hockeyroos, who won gold in Melbourne in 2006.
Australia are in Pool B alongside the Black Sticks, who they beat in Sydney in October last year to win the Oceania Cup. Scotland (18th), Canada (21st) and Ghana (30th) are also in Pool B.
New Zealand knocked Australia out of the 2016 Olympics in the quarter-finals so there’s history there which adds another layer to the fierce Trans-Tasman rivalry.
The Kiwis, who made last year’s World League Final decider, lost midfielder Tessa Jopp to injury last week, ruling her out of the Commonwealth Games.
Meanwhile, several members of the England side were part of the Great Britain team which won gold in Rio, however they’ll be without Olympic gold medallists Lily Owsley, Shona McCallin and Nicola White due to injury.
Australia haven’t played England or Great Britain since losing 2-1 in their opening game in Rio.
The Hockeyroos have undergone a period of evolution since their Rio disappointment, with Paul Gaudoin taking over as coach, while Madonna Blyth, Georgie Parker and Ashleigh Nelson have all retired.
Ten of Australia’s 18-member team have never played at a Commonwealth Games before, while five being 22 years-young or under.
Blyth’s retirement means there’s a new captain in green and gold, with Crookwell product Emily Smith taking the reins as skipper in September last year.
In Smith’s first tournament as captain she led the Hockeyroos to their Oceania Cup success, with disciplined midfielder Jane Claxton impressing, scoring in the 2-0 triumph in the final.
Townsville midfielder Stephanie Kershaw has emerged as a star over the past 12 months following an ACL injury which ruled her out of Rio. Goalkeeper Rachael Lynch enters her third Commonwealth Games and is a veteran arguably in career-best form.
Australia are without long-term injury absentees Georgina Morgan, Mariah Williams and Georgia Wilson.
Australia’s first match is against Canada on Thursday 5 April from 4.30pm AEST.