Blades trim Waratahs
By TIM HOWARD
ALTHOUGH the results did not go to plan, the Easter Weekend of hockey in Grafton has been a showcase for the sport.
Organisers said 1500 people came through the gate on Saturday and Sunday to watch the NSW men's and women's teams, the Waratahs and Arrows, take on Queensland's Blades and Scorchers.
The Queenslanders took out all four games in highly competitive matches.
On Saturday the National Hockey League defending champion Waratahs went down 4-3 and yesterday endured another loss, 2-1.
The Queenslanders were more dominant in the women's games, taking Saturday's game 3-1 and backing up on Sunday to win 4-1.
The Queenslanders also took out the individual awards with Rob Hammond taking out the Brent Livermore Award for the player of the weekend in the men's.
In the women's competition, the Nikki Hudson Award went to teammate Danette Boland.
Waratahs Olympic star and Grafton product Brent Livermore said the Queensland teams were setting the benchmark for the National Hockey League, judging by these games.
However, he was not prepared to write off his team's chances.
"It's early days yet," he said.
"But not getting a point this weekend makes it vital we win next weekend (against the Northern Territory) and against South Australia in Sydney the following week."
Livermore said his Waratahs were competitive with the Blades, but failed to play for the full 70 minutes.
"NSW is a green side and those younger players need to develop the mental side of their game," he said.
However, he was impressed with a couple of players who stepped up to the mark this weekend, including another Grafton product, Robbie Green.
"Robbie Green has been a strong performer for NSW for a number of years now and always plays to a high standard in games like this," he said.
"Stuart Fletcher is another player I think whose game has matured."
Livermore was thrilled at the support the games received from the Grafton public.
"Never in my dreams did I think I would have a chance to play hockey at such a high standard in front of my family and friends," he said.
"It wasn't the ideal preparation. I had three weeks off after the Commonwealth Games and haven't touched a stick until these games.
"I was a little out of touch, but it was something we had to do."
Livermore and the rest of the Kookaburras won't have the same problem for the rest of 2006.
The NHL continues into May, after which selectors name a national squad for a tournament in Malaysia in June.
In July the Australians are off to defend their Champions Trophy title in Barcelona, Spain.
Following that the team plays a Test series against Korea as it winds up its preparation for the Hockey World Cup in September.
"Everything is geared toward the World Cup," Livermore said.
"It's the only trophy we don't have in the cabinet and we've only ever won it once, in 1984.
"Last time we got silver, beaten by the Germans."
Grafton Hockey Association president Bruce Carle said the success of the weekend could lead to more important hockey games for Grafton.
"The feedback we have from Hockey NSW has been great," he said.
"They've been impressed with the whole weekend.
"We floated an idea that they could stage more of these games in 2009 when the city celebrated its 150th anniversary and they were very positive about it."
A spokesperson for event organiser ThreeOneThree, Lyn Diskon, said the success of the tournament will lead to better things.
"The only problem we had was we couldn't get a sponsor for the event and I don't think that will be a problem again," she said.