The Kookaburras have secured top spot in Pool A after a hard-fought 2-1 victory over New Zealand in their final round robin game at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on Wednesday at Gold Coast Hockey Centre.
Australia will play either England or India – who meet in their final pool game on Wednesday night – in the semi-finals on Friday night.
The result continues Australia’s recent dominance over the Black Sticks, extending their winning run to eight games against their Trans-Tasman rivals.
Jake Whetton’s cheeky 20th minute goal put the Kookaburras ahead, but it wasn’t until Trent Mitton scored his fourth goal of the tournament in the 56th minute that Australia had breathing space.
That two-goal lead didn’t last long with the Black Sticks pulling one back in the penultimate minute through Cory Bennett but the Kookaburras did enough to clinch the win which seals top spot in the pool.
New Zealand edged Australia on possession 52-48 as well as the penalty corner count seven to six but the Kookaburras had 36-20 circle entries throughout the 60 minutes.
Australia put New Zealand under pressure early with Jake Harvie whipping a ball across goal while Mitton tested keeper Richard Joyce after Tom Wickham’s run.
The Kookaburras came close in the 13th minute when Jeremy Hayward’s drag flick was saved on the line by New Zealand postman Shea McAleese.
New Zealand should have taken the lead in the 18th minute when Hugo Inglis pushed a close-range shot wide after a rebound from Nic Woods’ drag flick which had been saved by Tyler Lovell.
Two minutes later, the Kookaburras made them pay when Whetton when on a brilliant baseline run before cheekily shooting high into the back of the net from a tight angle past Joyce.
Hayden Phillips flashed a shot wide, while Nick Ross forced a sharp save from Lovell prior to half-time.
New Zealand came close again when Bennett’s drag flick went wide, while Australia survived a few penalty corner raids led by Kane Russell.
Aran Zalewski attempted another angled shot late which hit the side-netting, while Dylan Wotherspoon’s deflection bobbled wide from Harvie’s cross before the final change.
Zalewski fired a slider wide in the 49th minute from a penalty corner, while Eddie Ockenden made a crucial last-gasp interception after McAleese’s baseline run.
Hayward was denied from a trademark drag flick by Joyce’s left mit with six minutes to go.
Wickham forced a save from Joyce’s kicker in the 56th minute before collecting the rebound and finding Mitton who deflected home to make it 2-0.
New Zealand pulled one back in the 58th minute, with Bennett scoring at the second attempt with a powerful low shot into the backboard from a penalty corner.
Australia 2 (Whetton 20’, Mitton 56’)
New Zealand 1 (Bennett 58’)