The Kookaburras held the number one world ranking for 12 months but ended 2018 in second spot following an amazing calendar year where the side won numerous major honours.
Australia’s 2018 included winning a sixth consecutive Commmonwealth Games gold medal, a 15th overall Champions Trophy and a 10th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup.
Unfortunately the Kookaburras finished the year missing out on a third consecutive World Cup title, settling for bronze, seeing Belgium leapfrog Australia into the top ranking.
That conclusion to 2018 sets up next year’s inaugural FIH Pro League which starts in Australia in February where some of the best international teams in the world will meet on a home-and-away basis. Matches will be played in Melbourne, Hobart, Perth and Sydney.
Dutch Test series thriller :
The Kookaburras took on Hockey heavyweights Netherlands in a four-match Test series in Narrogin and Perth in January and February which ended with both sides claiming one win each and two draws.
The series concluded with a thrilling 6-1 Australia win over the Dutch at Perth Hockey Stadium with Lachlan Sharp netting his maiden international goals. The entertaining series included two 3-3 draws, a 3-2 Dutch win and Australia’s 6-1 victory in the final Test. Jake Whetton, Tyler Lovell and Tristan White reached career milestones during the series too.
Sultan Azlan Shah Cup triumph :
Australia’s Commonwealth Games preparations took them to Malaysia against some top opposition, including Argentina and England, for the annual Sultan Azlan Shah Cup which they lifted with a perfect campaign where they won every game, scoring 20 goals and conceding only seven.
The Kookaburras saluted in the final with a 2-1 triumph over England thanks to goals from Blake Govers and Sharp. Daniel Beale impressed and won the Player of the Tournament gong too.
Commonwealth Games gold medal :
The Kookaburras sent off retiring captain Mark Knowles in the perfect style, with a Commonwealth Games gold medal on the Gold Coast.
Knowles missed a penalty stroke in the decider but it didn’t sour a sweet victory, defeating New Zealand 2-0 in the final thanks to goals from Aaron Kleinschmidt and Matt Dawson, who suffered a scary eye injury in the lead-up to the tournament.
Trent Mitton starred with six goals as Australia won every game on their way to glory, with Australia’s Games flag bearer Knowles finishing up with 324 caps and 30 goals.
Champions Trophy success :
Despite Knowles’ retirement, Australia showed they deserved their number one status by taking out the Champions Trophy in the Netherlands in June and July. The Kookaburras’ campaign wasn’t perfect but they did enough to top the standings with three wins, one draw and one loss.
Blake Govers scored in the 1-1 draw against India in the final, before Tyler Lovell’s heroics and Jeremy Edwards’ cool finish sealed a shootout victory. Aran Zalewski, who reached his 150th cap during the series, was named Player of the Tournament, while Jake Harvie claimed Rising Star.
World Cup bronze medal :
Australia headed for Bhubaneswar in November with the burden of their top ranking and back-to-back World Cup titles, but didn’t show any signs of letting the expectations get to them with a superb pool phase with three wins from three games.
The Kookaburras eased past France in the quarter-finals, before a heart-breaking shootout loss to the Dutch in the semi-finals after improbably fighting back from 2-0 down with Eddie Ockenden’s leveller with 26 seconds left.
Australia brushed off their disappointment to emphatically crush England 8-1 for bronze, with Blake Govers finishing as equal top scorer with seven goals.