Mariah Williams has made her return to international hockey after an absence that stretches back to April of 2017 after a lengthy injury layoff saw the Newcastle hockey star left watching on the sidelines as the Hockeyroos continued on with their campaigns.
Now, Williams is set to continue her Australian story in the FIH Pro League, the newest international format that will see dominant world teams like the Netherlands, Great Britain, Argentina and more play across a series of gamedays to see which nation boasts the strongest national squad.
The Hockeyroos have already hosted two matches at the Melbourne State Netball & Hockey Centre, defeating the tournament top-seeds the Netherlands off a first half field goal from Jane Claxton, before the ladies in green and gold fell to Belgium after Michelle Struijk and Louise Varsavel scored once each.
Brooke Peris was able to grab one back in the 57th minute for the Hockeyroos, but it wasn’t enough and has left the Australian squad sitting with a 1-1 record in third place off point percentage.
The victory over the Dutch on the opening day was a historic moment for Australia, with the win breaking a 19-game losing streak against the first seed squad that stretches all the way back to July 2009, when the Hockeyroos pipped the Netherlands roster in the Champions Trophy.
Now Australia will face China on February 9, when they look to keep a hold on their place in the playoff position they have found themselves early on in the 2019 competition.
They then welcome fifth-seed Germany to the Tasmanian Hockey Centre in Hobart the following day. Germany have not yet played a game in the Pro League season, and will be looking to kick their season off with a bang against the third seed home squad.
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Williams has again been included in the Hockeyroos squad, and the representative stalwart admitted she believes she didn’t meet her own expectations due to nerves after the 2-1 defeat last Sunday.
“I was a little bit nervous as it’s been a while,” she said. “I’ve got to take in the things I didn’t do to my best and try put on a better performance on the field. I’ll watch some footage and get better.”
Hockeyroos coach Paul Gaudoin believes Williams, and fellow injury-struck teammate Georgia Wilson, who is also on the path back into the squad, had a strong showing on the first weekend.
“It’s great that they’re out on the park,” he said. “They’ll be better for the run. It’s been a long time for both of them so I’m glad we’ve got the run into them.”
— Hockey Australia (@HockeyAustralia) February 5, 2019
The team’s head coach also believes the Pro League has been a great way to give players run-outs against the worlds best, and is looking forward to returning to Hobart in the second week.
“We want to use the opportunity to expose our athletes,” he said. “Playing in Hobart at home is fantastic. Germany and China are both quality teams. We’ve played China recently at the Champions Trophy and they had some good results.”
“We haven’t played Germany for quite a while so we’re looking forward to seeing what they’ve got and how we fare against them.”
— Hockeyroos (@Hockeyroos) February 3, 2019
The new-look Pro League has the northern hemisphere nations heading south for the first half of the competition before Australia, New Zealand and Argentina go to Europe for the latter stages. The tournament is played on a weekly home-and-away basis.
It effectively replaces the Champions Trophy (held annually from 1978-2012 but only featuring the top six countries in a one-week event) and the recent Hockey World League that had regional qualifying and a finals tournament.
The FIH Pro League matches will be televised on Fox Sports and kayosports.com.au. Tickets are available by ticketbooth.com.au.