Defending champions enter finals full of steam

NSW Pride have roared to claim both top spots of the women’s and men’s JDH Hockey One League tables with a pair of victories over the Adelaide Fire on a night where the results were overshadowed by breathtaking goals from international stars Tom Craig, Blake Govers and Grace Stewart.

NSW Pride Women were forced to hold off a gritty Adelaide Fire outfit 2-0 before the Pride Men ensured a three-peat of championships was very much on their radar as they notched up a 7-3 victory in the last round of the regular season.

A neat brace from Hockeyroo Stewart proved to be the difference for the NSW Pride as they survived a stern examination by a resilient Adelaide Fire in Sydney.

With the match delayed by one hour as the Fire squad was marred by significant travel delays, it was a courageous display from the visitors to keep pace with the defending champions throughout.

Stewart had an early sighter on her reverse stick side as the NSW Pride repeatedly attacked with great layers to earn circle entries.

Their best chance of the first half fell to Laura Reid, with the league’s leading scorer rounding the keeper but offering a tame attempt that was well saved by Fire defender Linzie Appleyard.

Moments later, Reid tried to turn provider only to see Abby Wilson send the cross inches wide of the far post.

Hattie Shand patrolled the midfield in a new role and the Hockeyroo was on the end of a penalty corner strike to threaten the Pride net.

But the deadlock was finally broken when Meike Van Haeringen worked the by-line before completing a reverse stick cross that was turned in by an outstretched Stewart after 38 minutes.

In arguably the conversion goal of the season, Stewart doubled the Pride’s advantage with a well executed lob of Fire goalkeeper Zoe Newman into the top left-hand corner of the goal.

Newman responded to deny further efforts from Ellie Baldwin and Reid, but the Pride maintained their clean sheet off the back of strong performances from Greta Hayes and Player of the Match Kaitlin Nobbs.

Hockeyroo and NSW Pride forward Abby Wilson was full of praise for the Fire and felt it was a tough prelude to next weekend’s Main Event finals series after the squad had their first match without their Jillaroos contingent.

“Adelaide came out after a not very well-prepared day with flight delays, and they really put it to us and it made us have to stick to our game plan and it was a really hard fought win,” said Wilson.

“We always train with the next athlete up attitude and those girls have been really working hard at training, which has made their transition into the team for big games like this really easy… and I think those girls played really well today.”

Adelaide Fire captain Euleena MacLachlan signed off on their JDH Hockey One League season with another honourable loss by focusing on the positives.

“It’s definitely encouraging but it’s also frustrating not to get the points after every game, but we’ve been pretty happy with our performances,” MacLachlan said post-match.

“We had something like ten players out of our normal side tonight, so we brought in a couple of new players and they held it against the best in Australia, so I’m really proud of the girls.”

The NSW Pride have spoiled the farewell of former Kookaburras star and Adelaide Fire recruit Kieran Govers with a series of exquisite goal scoring from Player of the Match Tom Craig and Govers’ younger brother Blake to clinch a 7-3 victory.

Needing an upset win against the defending champions to qualify for the Main Event in Canberra, the Fire threw the kitchen sink at the Pride and won the penalty corner count 6-1 but were simply no match for the world class skill of the Pride’s big guns.

The clock had barely ticked over eighty seconds when Blake Govers opened the scoring with a thunderbolt forestick strike to stun the Fire temporarily.

Adelaide goalkeeper Jed Snowden recovered to deny the conversion opportunity, before Craig fired off two early sighters on goal and Govers another warning.

After 20 minutes, Brand doubled the Pride’s advantage when he smashed a penalty corner rebound into the top right-hand corner from point blank range, after great follow up work from Govers.

Within a minute, the two freakish finishes prior were quickly overshadowed as Craig crashed a forestick volley off the wrong foot above the helmet of Snowden with an unstoppable strike to make it 3-0.

Debate will surely rage around the world as to whether the goal outranks Craig’s remarkable goal against the Brisbane Blaze early this JDH Hockey One League season, but the power, precision and difficulty of the strike is unquestioned.

Snowden again demonstrated his prowess in the one on one situation to deny the deficit growing further and his defensive efforts were rewarded when Peter Scott’s run was touched home by Kyton Rayner in the 25th minute.

The Fire continued to threaten going forward but their task become seemingly unsurmountable when Daine Richards scrambled home a close-range finish in the 34th minute and duly converted to make it 5-1.

But the Fire continued to fight with Fraser Heigh converting a penalty corner flick, before the visitors had a field goal ruled out just before three-quarter time.

With numbers thrown forward, Dylan Martin’s expert tackle and weighted through ball was caught by Craig and the Kookaburras forward reinforced his class once again as he nestled a tomahawk strike in off the far post.

Craig capped his hat-trick with a conversion goal on the second attempt, whilst there was still time for Heigh to add a late second from the set piece.

“We knew we had to bring our ‘A’ game as it was a must-win for Adelaide to make the finals, so I think it was a really good contest,” NSW Pride defender Martin said post-match.

For Kieran Govers, there was a lot of emotion as he confirmed he would now hang up the boots and stick but there was time to reflect on an honourable season from his adopted side.

“It’s been a blast. Obviously, it’s not fun chasing those NSW Pride boys around because they’re unbelievable… they’re an awesome team that connect really well,” Govers said.

“For the Adelaide Fire I’m just proud. We’ve had an unbelievable season and to have a shot at the finals is bloody awesome for the franchise.”

Every match of the JDH Hockey One League 2023 Season is LIVE and free on 7plus.

Match report courtesy of Adam Clifford.

Match Details – Women’s Match
NSW Pride 2 (Stewart 38’/38’)
Adelaide Fire 0
Saturday 18 November 2023
Sydney Olympic Park Hockey Centre

NSW Pride Women’s team: 1.Alice Arnott, 2.Ellie Baldwin, 3.Jocelyn Bartram (gk), 4.Ella Carr, 7.Laura Reid, 8.Greta Hayes, 10.Chelsea Holmes, 15.Hannah Kable, 17.Miri Maroney, 20.Kaitlin Nobbs, 24.Maddison Smith (c), 26.Grace Stewart, 27.Kendelle Tait, 29.Meike van Haeringen, 31.Abby Wilson

Adelaide Fire Women’s team: 2.Brittany Wang, 3.Sherilyn Cass, 4.Chloe Holland, 5.Holly Evans-Gill, 6.Euleena Maclachlan (c), 7.Ella Du Preez, 9.Marjolein Ceulen, 13.Hattie Shand, 14.Asta Fisher, 19.Rachel van der Ploeg, 22.Abbey Mitton, 22.Zoe Newman (gk), 26.Linzi Appleyard, 27.Gabriella Mitreska


Match Details – Men’s Match
NSW Pride 7 (Govers 2’, Craig 20’/50’/50’, Brand 20’, Richards 34’/34)
Adelaide Fire 3 (Rayner 25’, Heigh 40’/60’)
Saturday 18 November 2023
Sydney Olympic Park Hockey Centre 

NSW Pride Men’s team: 1.Lachlan Sharp, 2.Tom Craig, 3.Nathan Akroyd (gk), 7.Daine Richards, 8.Nathanael Stewart, 9.Nathan Czinner, 13.Blake Govers, 14.Dylan Martin, 19.Jack Hayes (c), 23.Ryan Woolnough, 28.Sam Gray, 29.Tim Brand, 32.Callum Mackay, 34.Thomas Miotto, 36.Michael Taylor

Adelaide Fire Men’s team: 1.Kieran Govers, 3.Lucas Toonen, 4.Jack Holland, 6.Matthew Magann, 7.Peter Scott, 9.Fred Gray (c), 10.Lachlan Arneil, 11.Kyton Rayner, 12.Mitchell Dell, 14.Fraser Heigh, 15.Paxton Silby, 16.Hugh Snowden, 17.Charl Ulrich, 21.Jed Snowden (gk), 25.Jethro Eustice