By Kate Allman
It has been three long years between drinks but finally the Sultana Bran Hockey One League is back.
Season 2 commences this Thursday 29 September, with women’s and men’s double headers being played weekly on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturday nights.
Who are the players to watch, and which teams will claim the men’s and women’s trophies?
To the uninitiated: this is Australian hockey’s State of Origin. An elite domestic league in which the nation’s best players grind out interstate rivalries dating back to their junior club days.
Current Kookaburras and Hockeyroos leave camp to play seven rounds, followed by a finals series, alongside Australia’s best developing talent in the battle for Hockey One League glory.
NSW Pride won the Men’s competition in the inaugural season, and Brisbane Blaze claimed the top gong for the Women’s competition. The in-between Covid-induced hiatus has undoubtedly lit a fire in the bellies of rival franchises.
Arguably the most thrilling element of the Sultana Bran Hockey One League is the ‘conversion’ rule.
This is unique to the league – a rule that allows players to double down on points after scoring a field goal by going one on one with the opposition goalkeeper in a shootout situation. The attacking player has just eight seconds to carry the ball into the circle and score against the keeper.
Every match that is tied at full time will also be decided by a shootout. It’s high stakes, high reward hockey that promises plenty of drama.
Brisbane Blaze Women won the trophy in Season 1 and have enough Hockeyroos paired with emerging talent to potentially go back-to-back. Dynamic young players like Claire Colwill and Hannah Cullum-Sanders are on a rapid ascent, while more experienced Hockeyroos Rosie Malone, Savannah Fitzpatrick and Ashlea Fey will steady the ship.
Hockey Club Melbourne looks to be the other strong contender on the women’s side, led from the back by Australia’s most capped goalkeeper Rachael Lynch. At the front, they’ll hit the scoreboard with in-form Ash Utri who was the highest goal scorer in this year’s Victorian Premier League.
The Season 1 Men’s champions NSW Pride may have the best team on paper – with the largest flock of Kookaburras in Tim Brand, Tom Craig, Matthew Dawson, Lachlan Sharp and Dylan Martin, plus goal machine and legendary drag flicker Blake Govers. However, some of the stars are currently playing in Europe and may miss crucial matches. That will leave space for last season’s runners-up Brisbane Blaze to burn a hole in the NSW scorecard. Legends donning the orange Blaze uniform include local Brisbane boy and dual-Olympian Jake Whetton, plus Daniel Beale, Jacob Anderson and Tim Howard.
Stars to watch
Melbourne midfielder Amy Lawton was recently named a finalist for the rising star of the year in the FIH Hockey Stars Awards. She debuted for the Hockeyroos at 17 and has been on an upwards trajectory since then, culminating in a silver medal at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games.
Perth Thundersticks’ Brodee Foster has been electric this year – winning a gold medal, player of the tournament, and top goal scorer in the men’s national under 21s competition.
Also out west, 23-year-old defender Karri Somerville has been finding extraordinarily good form in the Perth women’s league. She was in Birmingham for the Commonwealth Games and can punish oppositions with her deadly drag flick.
Australia’s most-capped Kookaburra Eddie Ockenden won the season Hockey One League Men’s MVP in 2019. This year he returns in a dual role as a player and assistant coach for his team, the Tassie Tigers.
South Australian Gabi Nance will come out of retirement to play for Adelaide Fire’s Women’s Team. She left the Hockeyroos camp in 2020 in disappointing circumstances when Covid scuttled international matches and no doubt has plenty left to prove.
Veteran Kookaburra Andrew Charter promises to freeze out opponents in goals for Canberra Chill. The dual Olympian and Commonwealth Games gold medallist famously conceded only three goals during the Kookaburras’ gold medal-winning campaign at the 2014 World Cup, and could be a defensive gamechanger up against conversion goal opportunities.