Bendigo bound: Hockey One League 2022 Finals Preview


Seven weeks of sporting drama and hockey-fuelled excitement all come down to this weekend.

Over two days in Bendigo, the Victorian regional city will host and crown the men’s and women’s champions of the 2022 Sultana Bran Hockey One League.

Young guns take on league veterans, and scorned runners-up will attempt to scalp defending champions across a packed weekend of finals action. There’s enough drama and rivalries to last many seasons to come. But for the 2022 season, which culminates here – there can only be one winner.

Here’s what we can look forward to.

Semi-Final – Women – NSW Pride v Perth Thundersticks – 10.35am 

NSW Pride claimed their spot in Saturday’s first semi-final by defeating Canberra Chill in the final round last week. Their 6-0 win was dominant and the team’s form has been booming since the middle of the season.

The Pride have leapt from sixth place in Season One to a second-place finish in this year’s regular season. They’re peaking at the right time and displaying threatening signs of a team that can score rapidly via the league’s leading striker, Hockeyroo Grace Stewart, aptly assisted by Abby Wilson and Alice Arnott. The midfield is almost unassailable – rising star Grace Young is surrounded by experience in Hockeyroos Mariah Williams and Greta Hayes, plus defender Maddi Smith and Hockeyroos goalkeeper Jocelyn Bartram.

But this semi-final will be a true test for the Pride to show they have evolved since Season One.

Perth Thundersticks have maintained a consistently impressive structure to finish the season on equal ladder points to the Pride, but narrowly dropping to third place on goal difference. Their defence is the best in the league – headed up by Olympian Penny Squibb, Hockeyroo Karri Somerville, and Candyce Peacock. The Thundersticks also have a corresponding Hockeyroo keeper Aleisha Power in the net.

The only thing that seems certain is this match will be a tight contest. When the Pride met the Thundersticks in Round 4, the Pride edged out a narrow 2-0 victory with a goal and conversion off the stick of Maddi Smith.

Semi-Final – Men – Brisbane Blaze v NSW Pride – 12.05pm 

The NSW Pride men follow their women playing on Saturday in a tantalising rematch of the 2019 grand final. Three years have passed and there are new faces, plus plenty of extra passion on the pitch since the Pride beat Brisbane Blaze in the Season One trophy match.

Can the Pride do the double or are the Blaze too hot right now?

Brisbane come into the match as favourites, having finished a stunning season as minor premiers with five wins and one loss. Two of their goal scorers – Cale Cramer and Joel Rintala – are tied for second among the league’s leading strikers (behind HC Melbourne magician Nathan Ephraums). The Blaze also have a wealth of talent in Kookaburras Jake Whetton, Tim Howard, Daniel Beale, Corey Weyer and Jacob Anderson – most of whom have been available and training with the squad all season.

It has been a different story for the Pride. Unavailability of players due to overseas playing commitments has forced the team to weather disjointed training sessions and new ins and outs each week.

However, Kookaburras Tom Craig, Matthew Dawson, Ky Willot, Flynn Ogilvie and keeper Ash Thomas are all named to fly to Bendigo this weekend. If all take the field on Saturday it will be the first time so much national team talent has converged in the red and gold and bodes dangerously for the unexpecting Brisbane Blaze.

When these teams met at the Sydney Olympic pitch in Round 5, the Blaze defeated NSW Pride 5-1.

Semi-Final – Women – HC Melbourne v Brisbane Blaze – 1.35pm

The second semi-final for the women has minor premiers HC Melbourne taking on Brisbane Blaze. First plays fourth in this rematch of the Season One grand final but don’t believe for a second that it will be a walkover in favour of the Victorian local favourites.

The Brisbane Blaze have surprised fans all season – starting out with a few wobbly early losses then fending off criticism of a ‘hockey malaise’ to fuel a momentous turnaround. They’ve also been here before: they won the trophy in Season One defeating HC Melbourne in a shootout.

Blaze Coach Nikki Taylor, supported by experienced Hockeyroos such as Savannah Fitzpatrick and Rosie Malone, appears to have injected some fire in the bellies of her team. Fitzpatrick admitting in a post-match interview that the training environment has been “tense” but clearly successful: the team began a hot run home towards finals when they beat the Perth Thundersticks in Round 3. They then went on to claim the scalps in-form NSW Pride and Adelaide Fire.

But on the other side of the pitch, HC Melbourne have been the team to beat all season. That’s thanks in large part to the speed, tenacity and creativity of midfielder Amy Lawton. Lawton is a woman in a league of her own – an athlete who has not only been a Player of the Match in three of six Hockey One league games but has been dubbed unofficial MVP of the season by the Hockey One Shootout.

Lawton’s talent is of course enabled by the skill, vision, and trust of her teammates. Standouts include a rising star in her younger sister Josie Lawton plus the quiet heroics in defence by Carly James. Metre-eater and New Zealand international Hannah Cotter has been finding the net when given the most smidgen of opportunities and has six goals from six games this year.

When these teams met in Round 4, HC Melbourne narrowly beat the Blaze 2-1. Expect a tense battle.

Semi-Final – Men – Canberra Chill v Perth Thundersticks 3.05pm

The last match on Saturday afternoon is arguably the toughest to predict.

At the start of the season, most fans would have predicted the Thundersticks to enter the finals as favourites. However, Canberra Chill has stunned the competition by flying into second place with memorable wins against some of the most dominant teams, including the defending champions NSW Pride last weekend in Parkes.

The Chill’s season was set up when they took a come-from-behind shootout win against the Tassie Tigers in Round 4. That was a coming-of-age match for midfielder Davis Atkin who has progressively found attacking form and stepped up his leadership and direction of play.

Supreme structure and defence through Chill veterans like James Day, Gary Backhus and young gun Anand Gupte is topped off by the most capped Kookaburra to stand in the net for his country, Andrew Charter. At the front, Aiden “Hooley” Dooley, Ben Craig, plus Ben and Jake Staines are all duly capable of creating and converting scoring opportunities.

But if anyone can crash Canberra’s party, it’s the Perth Thundersticks. The Thundersticks come off a Round 7 bye so will arrive in Bendigo refreshed with an extra week spent training, rather than flying between east and west coast time zones.

Scanning the team list for Perth is still as intimidating as it appeared in Round 1 – national players flock the squad in Kookaburras Aran Zalewski, Jake Harvie, Tom Wickham, goalkeeper Tyler Lovell, and Under 21 Burras star Cambell Geddes. Despite finishing the season in third, Perth suffered only narrow losses in the latter half of the year. Redemption could be thunderous.

When these teams played in Round 6, the Chill beat the Thundersticks 4-2 in an intense, high quality contest. Expect more of the same on Saturday.

Sunday 20 November – Grand Finals

The winners of each semi-final will advance to play in grand finals on Sunday.

The women’s grand final is first – with push back at 2.15pm. The men’s grand final is at 4.15pm.

Tickets to the Finals start from just $22 and are still available through Ticketek. Support hockey, support your team, and watch world-class athletes compete in one of the best regional facilities in Australia.

If you can’t make it to Bendigo, catch all the action live on FOX Sports 507 and Kayo.