The Hockeyroos will be aiming to put months of dramas behind them when they take on New Zealand in a four-match trans-Tasman series, starting in Palmerston North on Thursday.
The series shapes as a key preparation for the Tokyo Games, with the 27-woman squad to be cut to 16 in time for the Olympics.
The world No.2 Kookaburras will also play a four-match series against New Zealand, and they’ve taken a 22-man squad across for the games.
It’s been 15 months since Australia’s elite men’s and women’s hockey teams played an international fixture.
But the spotlight has been burning bright on the world No.4 Hockeyroos for the past nine months after years of internal dramas finally became public.
Past and present players have voiced their concerns about a culture of bullying, body shaming, and homophobia, with an independent review finding a dysfunctional culture existed in the set-up.
Hockey Australia high-performance manager Toni Cumpston quit in January, and Hockeyroos coach Paul Gaudoin resigned in March immediately after the release of the independent report.
Katrina Powell has been installed as head coach on a short-term contract and her big first test will come in the series against New Zealand.
Hockeyroos players threatened to strike when former captain Georgina Morgan and 2019 FIH goalkeeper of the year Rachael Lynch were left off the 2021 contract list.
Although the two players successfully appealed their axing, only Lynch won a selection reprieve for the series, meaning the Olympic hopes of Morgan are over.
Hockeyroos forward Stephanie Kershaw said the squad was excited to be back playing on the international stage, especially so close to the Olympics.
“It’s definitely a vital part of our preparation,” Kershaw said.
“We’ve played a bit against under-18 boys and a lot of intra-squad matches. All of the quality is really good, but not quite the same as playing internationals, so we’re really lucky to be playing here
“The Olympic selection adds a bit of extra pressure, but it’s nothing that we’re not prepared for.”
The Kookaburras have been flying under the radar in comparison to the Hockeyroos, and they’re viewing the series in NZ as a big bonus.
“We were kind of preparing for the situation where we might not have any international games before the Olympics,” Kookaburras midfielder Aran Zalewski said.
“But to be able to come to NZ, and have NZ come over to Australia next month is going to make a world of difference for our preparation.”