Article by Anendra Singh, Hawke's Bay Today
Photo: Hilary Finn
It came down to a nail-biting decider but New Zealand clinched the inaugural under-21 hockey Trans-Tasman test series bragging rights today.
The Greg Nicol-coached Kiwis came from 1-0 down against the gritty Australians in the first quarter to prevail 2-1 in the final test match at the Park Island turf in Napier.
Australia captain Michaela Spano epitomised the never-say-die attitude of the tourists with a goal in the first quarter but New Zealand skipper Ella Hyatt-Brown and her young charges didn't lose faith.
Striker Hope Ralph, of New Plymouth, struck twice in the third quarter to give the Kiwi fans something to cheer about.
"I just went hunting for the ball," said a modest Ralph, revealing Nicol had impressed on them not to leave anything in the tank while toiling for each other.
The 18-year-old, who is pursing a sport and recreation degree in her first year at the Auckland University of Technology, said the New Zealander defenders displayed tenacity in thwarting any attacks the Aussies had mounted in the final 15-minute quarter.
They had adhered to Nicol's advise of winning the 50-50 battles, staying composed and pushing the Aussies to the peripheral parts of the pitch and keeping them there.
The Australians, who remarkably played as a unit for the first time because of the scattered nature of their yawning catchment areas, had bounced back from a 3-2 loss on Thursday last week with a victory in the second test match by the same margin yesterday.
Abigail Wilson, 20, had taken ownership with a hat trick of goals for the Aussies.
Ralph said it was a cracker affair with the visitors making the most of the opportunities they had created while the Kiwis had come up a tad shy.
"It was just the finishing for us [that was lacking on Saturday]," she said but adding they were extremely proud of their efforts over the three series.
A laughing Ralph said it would be great to have the series remain although she had no qualms if it wasn't going to be staged in her hometown as long as everyone got to play.
"We got some support from New Plymouth, which is cool," she said after her family members made the trip here with those of Holly Pearson, 20, who enjoyed rain-free games at the weekend after it dictated terms on Thursday.
Spano echoed similar sentiments about the test series.
"These series are so great for us as a nation and even for the New Zealand girls it's a perfect opportunity to develop as a team," she said.
The 21-year-old from South Australia said competing in such age-group tournaments created a sense of continuity in the transition to, hopefully, representing the Hockeyroos or the Black Sticks women later in their careers.
Unsure what was next due to funding limitations, she said the Trans-Tasman rivals relished bringing the best out in each other.
Considering they had a young outfit still working on finding a modicum of cohesiveness, Spano said it was a great hit out for them.
"We learned a lot about how we want to play and how to play [alongside] each other so we've developed a lot," she said. "When you lose you often learn a lot more so we're pretty happy although obviously we wanted to win but sometimes you develop more when you lose."
Spano said they would make a few minor tweaks to the Aussie brand of playing although it wasn't close to the senior Hockeyroos' structure but there was always some room for variations, technically and tactically.