Honours split on cracking opening night

By Adam Clifford

Women’s Match

HC Melbourne has overcome a fightback from a luckless NSW Pride to claim the opening points in the Sultana Bran Hockey One women’s competition with an exciting 5-3 win in Melbourne tonight.

Blooding eight debutants, the home side overcame a cagey opening quarter to score the first goal of Season 2 with a brilliant between-the-legs finish from skipper Ash Utri in the 18th minute.

Hockeyroos goalkeeper Jocelyn Bartram demonstrated her class, comfortably negotiating Utri’s conversion attempt before making back-to-back reflex saves as HC Melbourne dialled up the pressure in front of a strong crowd.

Their momentum was rewarded approaching half-time when Rosario Villagra knocked home a reverse stick deflection goal from a penalty corner to make it 2-0.

The fireworks kicked off with six goals in the third term, first with the hosts jumping to a 5-0 lead after Hannah Cotter scored and converted, then teammate Olivia Downes thumped home a fore-stick strike from the circle’s edge merely seconds later.

Bartram’s second conversion save of the match then sparked NSW Pride into gear and the inspired visitors immediately forced HC Melbourne goalkeeper Rachael Lynch into two sharp saves.

But Lynch could no nothing as Hockeyroo Grace Stewart knocked home on her backstick and duly converted with aplomb to reduce the deficit to three goals.

It was game on as NSW Pride brought the scores back to 5-3 when Mariah Williams deflected home their fourth penalty corner in the 43rd minute.

The final term was played on tender hooks as momentum seesawed, but a spectacular fightback was denied as NSW Pride twice saw their efforts thrash against the woodwork.

Speaking post-match, HC Melbourne star Amy Lawton was pleased to bank three points against their archrivals and to have one of the world’s elite competitions back.

“It’s a great start for us…we haven’t played Hockey One for a few years, so it’s good to be back out there and playing with the HC Melbourne girls,” said Lawton.

“NSW Pride are a great team, and they gave us a great fight as always.”

“I think we had a good press which helped (our goal scoring), we also had some good connections and I think we can keep building on that, especially in the shootout conversions.”

HC Melbourne will aim to maintain their winning start at home against the Perth Thundersticks on Friday 7 October, while NSW Pride have the bye in Round 2 before an away fixture against Adelaide Fire on 14 October.

Men’s Match

NSW Pride has overcome a half-time deficit to defeat HC Melbourne in front of a club record crowd in a spectacular opening of the 2022 Sultana Bran Hockey One League in Melbourne.

Four unanswered goals to the visitors in the third quarter proved the difference as NSW Pride’s six debutants each put their cases forward, providing a selection headache for coach Brent Livermore.

Player of the Match Dylan Martin said the NSW Pride players were extremely keen to take the field in one of the world’s elite competitions.

“We got up this morning and had a pretty good training session, we had a pretty good plan and we’ve executed it quite well,” said Martin.

“At NSW Pride we have a lot of depth. We knew that Melbourne was going to be a pretty good side. We knew that they have a pretty good front group and I think that we dealt with that really well. I’m really proud of the debutants today.”

The third term saw NSW Pride capitalise with two field goal conversions from Daine Richards and Ky Willott despite some ill-discipline.

“The key to success in this format is to get field goals and convert them and that’s what we did today and at the end of the day, they didn’t have quite the capacity that we did so that was nice.”

The home side had threatened a boil over when they scored through Damon Steffens’ 5th minute penalty corner flick, but from there HC Melbourne would be wasteful from their eight set pieces.

NSW Pride thought they had found a way back into the contest in the 26th minute, but Jack Hayes could only watch as his penalty stroke cannoned back off the post after sending the goalkeeper the wrong way.

A physical and at time frenetic contest was broken wide open after the main interval as NSW Pride scored the next five goals, with Miles Davis knocking into an unguarded net in the 54th minute to make it 5-1.

Hometown hero Nathan Ephraums provided an immediate response with a goal on the second attempt seconds after the re-start, then converting after committing the goalkeeper to bring HC Melbourne within a successful converted goal.

But after withdrawing goalkeeper Johan Durst to capitalise on a player advantage, it was fitting that Martin flicked home a final minute sealer to secure maximum points for the defending champions.

HC Melbourne must quickly regather themselves ahead of a crucial home clash against the Perth Thundersticks on Friday October 7, while NSW Pride can look forward to a rest ahead of their second consecutive away match to the Adelaide Fire on Friday October 14.