Perth Thundersticks remain the only undefeated women’s team, while HC Melbourne Men produced a scintillating performance to close out Round 4 of the JDH Hockey One League 2023 Season at Perth Hockey Stadium at Curtin University this afternoon.
In a top of the table showdown, a Penny Squibb goal proved to be the winner as the Perth Thundersticks edged out HC Melbourne 1-0 in a tightly fought women’s match.
Then in the men’s encounter, despite having several of their young stars away on international duty with the Burras (Australia’s U21 Men’s Team), HC Melbourne upstaged the home side 6-2 to throw open the finals race.
The meeting of the top two women’s teams was always going to be a high intensity arm wrestle with goal scoring opportunities at a premium and so it proved as one goal was all it took to decide the result.
In a first half of limited chances, it appeared there would not be one penalty corner in the opening 30 minutes until the home side won a set piece, their only one for the match, in the shadows of half time.
Perth captain Rachel Frusher swatted a low hard drive from the edge of the circle that was blocked by the HC Melbourne first defensive runner, the ball coming out to Squibb who took a touch to control and then unleash a low hard shot into the backboard.
Prior to the goal, Olivia Downes had HC Melbourne’s best chance when she found herself in an identical position to the one she scored from last weekend, but on this occasion she unselfishly pinged the ball across the goalmouth where it split the middle between two teammates.
At the other end, Neasa Flynn stung the pads of HC Melbourne goalkeeper Rachael Lynch in the 20th minute.
Heading into the second half a goal up, the Perth Thundersticks Women, who had the best defensive record last season, continued in a similar vein to minimise HC Melbourne’s attacking brigade.
At the start of the last quarter, Hockeyroos midfielder Amy Lawton combined with Ash Utri on the right, the latter sending a dangerous ball across the goal face but there was no HC Melbourne stick in the vicinity to get on the end of it.
The Victorians continued to throw caution to the wind in search of an equaliser, the majority of the final quarter played in HC Melbourne’s attacking half.
However, the home side remained resolute to secure another crucial five points and go clear at the top of the standings.
“It was definitely a bit frantic but I’m glad we managed to keep them out. They had a few good opportunities and we got a bit lucky in the end but we’ll take it,” said Thundersticks and Hockeyroos defender Karri Somerville, who made her first appearance of the season.
“It was a little bit nerve racking but everyone did such a great job…it felt great to slot back in.”
Midfielder Georgia Wilson, who was named Player of the Match, praised her team’s collective defence and intensity.
“We’ve got a fit and fast team and I think that may have benefitted us today,” said Wilson.
“Before the game we talked about having a real intensity, starting with our front group dictating the press. It’s important that it not only translates in the back half but starts at the front.
“Our strikers and midfielders did an awesome job today as well as our back group to step up and intercept, so it was a really good job across the field.”
Both men’s teams entered the match off the back of narrow losses in the previous round, making this game all the more important.
When Ben White mesmerised James Day with some classy 3D skills to glide into the attacking circle and provide an assist for Kookaburras striker Nathan Ephraums to pounce and open the scoring in the 14th minute, HC Melbourne meant business.
Ephraums could not beat Thundersticks goalkeeper Ben Rennie with the added conversion opportunity but it mattered little as Connor Otterbach produced the deftest of touches from a low Connor Otterbach shot to double the lead in the 18th minute.
Otterbach was successful with his conversion and the Thundersticks were staring at a three goal deficit.
They pegged a goal back when Kookaburra Aran Zalewski got a telling touch on a fierce Jake Harvie drive from a rebound at a penalty corner, before Day brought it back to 3-2 with an unstoppable drag flick.
Having worked their way back into the game, the Thundersticks suffered a sucker punch a minute later when Jordan Rees hit one right on the screws to send HC Melbourne into the long break 4-2 ahead.
A Day drag flick rocketed into the crossbar with six minutes to go in the third quarter as Perth pushed to close the margin, however HC Melbourne were on their own mission and struck again in the 44th minute.
Ephraums toyed with the defence on the left hand side in the circle before a give-and-go with James Knee, receiving the ball back and tucking it past Rennie.
The Perth keeper again managed to keep out Ephraums’ conversion attempt to leave it at 5-2 with a quarter to play.
There would be no fairytale comeback as Damon Steffens put a final nail into the Thundersticks coffin with a trademark drag flick in the 53rd minute to round off a superb performance from HC Melbourne.
The result sends the Victorians back into the top four, while the loss leaves the Thundersticks with two losses in a row and the job in front of them with three rounds to go.
“We’re over the moon with the result,” said a delighted Otterbach.
“We knew we faced some challenges with some of the guys going to the Sultan of Johor Cup with the Burras, but we knew had strong company within the squad…good depth, so we’re really excited with the win and to keep our season on track.”
“We knew the Thundersticks would come at us hard in the second half, especially the last quarter, but we just had to wrestle back the momentum, scrap it out in defence and it worked out well in the end.”
Every match of the JDH Hockey One League 2023 Season is LIVE and free on 7plus.
Match Details – Women’s Match
Perth Thundersticks 1 (Squibb 30’)
HC Melbourne 0
Sunday 29 October 2023
Perth Hockey Stadium at Curtin University
Perth Thundersticks Women’s team: 1.Pippa Morgan, 3.Neasa Flynn, 6.Sarah Byrnes, 7.Penny Squibb, 8.Georgia Wilson, 9.Shanea Tonkin, 10.Jesse Reid, 11.Rachel Frusher (c), 12.Liné Malan, 13.Lexie Pickering, 14.Elizabeth Duguid (gk), 17.Annie Gibbs, 18.Renee Rockliff, 19.Georgina Dowd, 20.Karri Somerville
HC Melbourne Women’s team: 2.Aisling Utri, 3.Nicola Hammond, 4.Amy Lawton, 5.Krissy Bates, 6.Josie Lawton, 7.Ciara Utri, 8.Jessie Dean, 9.Carly James, 10.Rosario Villagra, 11.Joanne Peeters, 12.Emily Hamilton-Smith, 14.Laura Barden, 15.Olivia Downes, 25.Hannah Gravenall (c), 27.Rachael Lynch (gk)
Match Details – Men’s Match
Perth Thundersticks 2 (Zalewski 25’, Day 29’)
HC Melbourne 6 (Ephraums 14’/44’, Otterbach 18’/18’, Rees 30’, Steffens 53’)
Sunday 29 October 2023
Perth Hockey Stadium at Curtin University
Perth Thundersticks Men’s team: 1.Matthew Bird, 2.Will Battistessa, 3.Tim Geers, 4.Jake Harvie, 5.Tom Wickham, 9.James Day, 11.Tom Harvie, 12.Alistair Murray, 13.Brayden King, 14.Matthew Willis, 15.Liam Flynn, 17.Aran Zalewski (c), 18.Ben Rennie (gk), 25.Trent Mitton, 26.James Collins
HC Melbourne Men’s team: 5.Douglas Buckley, 6.Damon Steffens, 7.Nathan Ephraums, 8.Lachlan Steinfort, 9.Nathan Copey,10.Brad Marais, 12.Connar Otterbach, 13.Jayshaan Randhawa, 14.James Knee, 15.Josh Simmonds (c), 18.Johan Durst (gk), 19.Jordan Rees, 22.Ben White, 26.Eden Davis, 29.Nicholas Fitzgerald