The Hockeyroos have ended their 446-day stint in the international wilderness and months of off-field dramas with a 1-1 draw against New Zealand in Palmerston North.
The world No.4 Hockeyroos took the lead late in the second quarter of Thursday’s trans-Tasman clash when Rosie Malone slammed home a powerful strike.
The Black Sticks hit back in stunning fashion in the final term, with Olivia Shannon deflecting a pass through her own legs and in for a goal.
The Hockeyroos had a chance to win the game in the dying minutes, but NZ goalkeeper Grace O’Hanlon was able to keep out a goal-mouth scrap just as Emily Chalker was about to pounce.
The Australian women’s hockey team have been beset by dramas for years now, with the issue coming to a head over the past nine months when past and present players began to air their grievances publicly.
Hockey Australia high-performance manager Toni Cumpston quit in January, and Hockeyroos coach Paul Gaudoin followed suit after the release of an independent review that found a dysfunctional culture existed within the set-up.
Katrina Powell has been thrust into the hot seat ahead of the Olympics, and her team was rusty early on in her first game in charge.
“It was a bit of a shaky start from our end,” stand-in Hockeyroos skipper Jane Claxton told Sky Sports.
“It was our first game in 446 days. We’re definitely still getting used to that international speed.
“Once we got the nerves out of the way, we started playing more of our style and felt more comfortable out there.”
NZ came out with all guns blazing in the opening term, dominating possession and field position to create numerous chances on goal.
But Hockeyroos goalkeeper Rachael Lynch, who was initially axed from the 2021 squad before winning a reprieve upon appeal, pulled off a series of sharp blocks to save her team.
Australia turned the tables in the second quarter, and they got on the board through a powerful strike from Malone.
The Black Sticks had four penalty corners late in the quarter, but Lynch and her defensive unit kept each one out.
The home side had a golden chance to level the scores when the ball flew to an unmarked Julia King at the far post, but the midfielder fumbled and the chance went begging.
NZ captain Stacey Michelsen had her powerful raised shot well saved, but there was no denying Shannon’s spectacular nutmeg.
Game two of the four-match series will be held on Friday.