Josh and Hayley in the Big League

February 10, 2019 at 12:15 PM

Josh and Hayley in the Big League at Home

This article was published in the Manningham Leader newspaper 18 February, page 78 in the Sports section.

Elite Doncaster Hockey Club players, Josh Simmonds and Hayley Padget took another huge step forward in Melbourne over the weekend.  Both players debuted for Australia in the Kookaburras and the Hockeyroos respectively late last year but playing for Australia in their home town was a career highlight.

The Kookaburras and Hockeyroos played in the initial FIH Pro League in Melbourne on 2 February.  The Pro League is a new global ‘home and away’ league involving the world’s leading hockey nations.  The Australian men and women were up against the Netherlands and Belgium in the opening round.

Simmonds was moved by playing for Australia at home.  “Playing in Melbourne in front of a home crowd was the highlight of my career so far.  I had over 30 family and friends there each day and I could hear them when playing so that was great to hear a cheer every time I was involved in the play” Simmonds said.

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Josh Simmonds v Belgium 3 February 2019

Photo courtesy of Andrew Pywell

Padget was also very excited to play in Melbourne.  “You’ve grown up there, your whole family is there, just about everyone who’s had something to do with your hockey career is there.  I was stoked to go home and look into the crowd and know so many faces” Padget said.

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Hayley Padget v Belgium 3 February 2019

Photo courtesy of Andrew Pywell

And the hockey was at a very high level too.  Belgium’s men are ranked number 1 in the world, the Kookaburras number 2 and the Netherlands number 3, it doesn’t get much better.  The women’s matches were similarly ranked: the Netherlands ranked number 1, the Hockeyroos number 3 and Belgium number 13 but are the rising star team in the world.

The Kookaburras had a tough weekend drawing 5-5 to the Netherlands but then losing the shot out.  On the Sunday the Kookaburras went down to Belgium 4-1.

Simmonds said the Kookaburras have reviewed the two matches and are already working on the improvements.  “We played well in patches but weren’t able to play consistently for long periods of time.  Reviewing the games we did this well and broke through both teams but let ourselves down late in the games” Simmonds said.

The Hockeyroos also had mixed results beating the Netherlands on the Saturday for the first time in nine years then the following day going down to Belgium for the first time.  Padget was quick to point out that the Belgium team were a class opponent.  “No way did we underestimate them.  Ignore the ranking, Belgium are as good as any county in the world.  Their first Pro League match was a few days earlier against New Zealand in Auckland and they beat the Black Sticks 1-0.  We knew very well both our initial Pro League matches were going to be tough” Padget said.

The new Pro League brings a new perspective to international hockey, moving away from tournament events where all countries meet at one venue for a fortnight of international matches.  The Pro League has national teams playing a ‘home and away’ series over a six month period.

“Pro League is a great new initiative for international hockey.  Normally you can work your way into a tournament format but with Pro League it’s one off games so it’s very important to be ready to go straight away” Simmonds said.

Australia is already looking at its next round of Pro League matches.  The Kookaburras and the Hockeyroos both play Germany in Hobart on 10 February.  With the Tokyo Olympics just over 12 months away, the Pro League gives the Australian selectors the best opportunity to finalise the teams that will go to the Olympics.

Simmonds and Padget know only too well the Pro League is a critical step toward Tokyo.  “Tokyo is the long term aim so Pro League matches are the perfect opportunity to show your ability” Simmonds said.

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