To say the Brisbane Blaze men’s team would like to turn the tables on NSW Pride when they meet this weekend in the JDH Hockey One League is quite the understatement.
Not only did the Pride defeat Brisbane in the inaugural season’s final, NSW also beat the Blaze in the 2022 semi-finals after the Queensland side topped the table in the regular season.
For midfielder Jake Whetton, it is a match he is looking forward to as yet another example of why the JDH Hockey One League is fast-becoming one of the most formidable club competitions anywhere in the world.
“In Hockey One each match is world class,” says Whetton. “You look at the NSW Pride lineup and they’ve got six, seven, eight Kookaburras in that group and even more juniors coming through so it’s almost at international standard every week which is fantastic for hockey.
“They’ve certainly got a pretty formidable side at the moment and they’ve knocked us out of the competition the last two Hockey One seasons so it’s going to be a good challenge.”
If ever there was a time to take on the two-time defending champions, it is after one of the most comprehensive victories in the competition’s short history. Last weekend Brisbane beat Adelaide Fire 10-2, equalling both the highest score and biggest winning margin since the League’s inception.
The Blaze also got the job done with a team which has a slightly different look to 2022, with a number of new faces providing just the spark Brisbane were after.
“We had four debutants in our first round (Gladstone’s Will Mathison, Bundaberg’s Luke Randle, Maryborough’s Diarmid Chappell and Brisbane’s David Hubbard) and they were from all around Queensland,” said Whetton. “They’ve had to bide their time over the last few seasons but they’ve been in and around our squad, but for them to make their debuts was awesome.
“When some younger guys force their way into the squad it’s fantastic for not just hockey in Brisbane but hockey in Queensland.”
As a senior player in the Brisbane team with more than 250 international appearances for the Kookaburras, Whetton enjoyed interacting with the new Blaze players, reminding them how special it is to play at this level.
“I remember when I first came into the Queensland Blades in the AHL and the older guys putting their arm around me and taking me under their wing and I’m trying to do the same thing,” he said. “I tried to get around to all those guys last week and say what a great honour it is to present Brisbane.
“It’s something you certainly pencil in when you start getting to under 18s, under 21s, you pencil in that next step and for those guys it’s an awesome achievement and hopefully they can put their best foot forward which I know they’ll do again this weekend.
“It can be daunting coming up against some of the best players in the world, but it’s good to test yourself, challenge yourself. It’s why we play elite sport – to play against the best players in Australia in this competition and some of the best in the world, so it’s going to be a big challenge for all of us but I’m sure that those junior guys and those kids in the system coming through are really looking forward to it as well.”
While this week is all about the plan to take down NSW, Whetton knows the level of competition in the JDH Hockey One League is one which is holding Australia in good stead ahead of next year’s Olympic Games in Paris.
He says the quality of the competition is up there with any other in the world, and due to this the importance it will play in Olympic selection is clear.
“To have a competition that runs for eight weeks when you’re playing week in, week out against the best competition in Australia, you certainly have that opportunity to put your hand up for selection,” said Whetton. “I know the coaching group are watching very closely so there’s certainly a lot of hype around it.
“It’s hard not to think about next year being such a big occasion, but I think most guys, their main focus is doing well for their franchise and putting their best foot forward each time gives a sense of how they could fit into the Kookaburras program if that’s the way the selectors go.”
Having completed the road trip to South Australia in week one, Whetton is excited to get back and play at the Queensland State Hockey Centre for the first time this year, following an undefeated season at home last year where they conceded a total of two goals.
“There’s no better place than playing at home in front of family and friends,” said Whetton. “Personally I get to play in front of mum and dad who don’t get the opportunity to watch me play hockey a lot anymore.
“They’ve been there along the journey and they get to come out and watch a quality team play, so it’s going to be an absolute cracker of a game and hopefully we start off on the right foot at home.”
Brisbane Blaze play their first home game of the 2023 JDH Hockey One League against NSW Pride on Saturday evening at the Queensland State Hockey Centre in Brisbane.
The women’s match will commence at 6:30pm AEST (7:30pm AEDT) followed by the men at 8pm AEST (9pm AEDT).