Grafton’s Robbie Green in action for Royal Antwerp.
Grafton’s Robbie Green in action for Royal Antwerp.

From Grafton to Belgian hockey

ROBBIE Green, regarded by local and NSW players as the Australian Kookaburra who should have been, is enjoying life and hockey on a contract with Belgian club Antwerp.

Robbie represented Australia in under-21s and indoor, captained and played in the winning NSW Waratahs National Hockey League side and represented NSW in all age divisions, many as a local Grafton boy.

He is one of the longest serving NHL players, with an unbroken streak of 10 years with the Waratahs. One of the highlights in his career was captaining the Grafton men’s team this year to the State A division title.

It was common knowledge that he could go head to head with Australian Olympic sprinters over 50 metres.

Robbie was the winner of the Brian Booth medal for being the best player in the strong Sydney competition on two occasions.

The Daily Examiner spoke to him during a break in his European playing stint.

What made you take up hockey, what age and who did you play for as a junior?

I started playing hockey when I was 12 years old. I was looking for a change after playing soccer since I was six years old. My first junior club was Sailors.

Who were the players that you looked up to as a junior?

The local players I looked up to as a junior were David Dart, Rick Sampson, Michael Russ and Brent Livermore. They were all an inspiration to me and were always happy to share their insights into the game. The two international players I looked up were Australia’ Kenny Wark, a rock-solid, no-nonsense defender, and Pakistan’s Shahbaz, a free-flowing ball runner with the ability to change a game.

Who were some of your coaches while at Grafton?

My first coach that had a major impact on my game was Kerry Wilsmore, who coached me every second morning before school as part of a Talented Athlete Program run by Grafton Hockey Association. I took from him a strong work ethic and enthusiasm, as well as key positional knowledge.

What were the highlights of your playing and coaching days in Grafton?

My highlights of playing in Grafton were winning a number of grand finals with City Bears and, more recently, winning the NSW Open Men’s State Championship with Grafton.

Did you make State junior teams?

I made State junior teams from the age of 13 when I was selected in the NSW under-14s. I played all age groups from under-14s through to under-21s with NSW.

Did you play any other sports?

I played soccer and rugby league. I played rugby league for the school team, and made the Northern Branch team for soccer in under-12s. After that I started playing hockey.

When did you move to Sydney and what team did you play with and why?

I moved to Sydney at the end of 1997, after I finished Year 12. At that time I started playing and training with Moorebank-Liverpool Hockey Club, who I still play for. Moorebank-Liverpool Hockey Club had a strong association with the Grafton area, with John Scott and Brent Livermore both playing for Moorebank, which is why I started playing for them

What was your job in Sydney? Do you maintain any Grafton friendships?

After arriving in Sydney I quickly found work through a contact in Moorebank-Liverpool Hockey Club and commenced a traineeship as a greenkeeper at New Brighton Golf Course. I remained working for New Brighton Golf Club until this year, when I moved to Belgium to play hockey. I still keep in contact with my friends, both those involve in hockey and those that are not, and continuing to play for my home town association helps me to do this.

When did you first make the NSW opens team and how many seasons have you played? How many as captain? Best result/most memorable achievement with NSW?

I made my first NSW Opens team in 2001, and am still playing to this date. I was captain of the Waratahs (NSW Opens) in 2007. My most memorable achievements with the NSW Opens team were winning the national titles in 2001 and 2005.

Any overseas trips?

I travelled to New Zealand twice for hockey; once with the under-21 Australian indoor team, and once with the NSWIS (NSW Institute of Sport). I also, unfortunately, had to pull out of a trip to Malaysia with NSWIS due to groin surgery.

Where are you now playing and for whom?

I currently live in Antwerp (Belgium) playing for Royal Antwerp Hockey Club. Belgian hockey has a strong Australian connection, with former Australian players Adam Commens and Murray Richards as the Belgian national team coaches. I signed a contract for one season with Royal Antwerp, which includes accommodation, a car and match payments. My wife Sonia and I have always wanted to travel and this was the perfect opportunity for us to do that, and for me to experience the hockey on the other side of the world.

Royal Antwerp plays within the Belgian national competition, which is the top league in Belgium. At the end of the season, the top two teams in the Belgian national competition get to play in the European League against the top club teams from across Europe. That is our goal. Hockey, in general, throughout Europe is quite popular and has the endorsement of major companies. Club teams attract major sponsors, large crowds and televised matches. There are a number of players from Australia playing throughout Europe (Dutch League, Spanish League, Belgian League, etc), including national players such as Jamie Dwyer, Eli Matheson and Marc Knowles.

What are your future plans?

At the moment I am focused on the season ahead with Antwerp and if we have a successful season and finish in the top two it will allow the club to play in the European Hockey League (EHL). If this does occur we will sit down and discuss our future, whether to stay and play another season or to move on.

Best moments socially and gamewise?

Socially, getting married to my wife Sonia was definitely a highlight. Gamewise, it was very rewarding being voted by my peers the Brain Booth medallist on two consecutive occasions. This is awarded to the best and fairest of the Sydney competition. For me personally the most rewarding moments are sharing the highs and lows of team sport and the friendships and memories you build along the way.

How good was winning NSW Opens?

Winning the NSW Opens with a team full of local talent and players I grew up with was incredible. Especially beating teams from what are considered stronger associations. It just goes to show the depth of grassroots talent there is in Grafton Hockey.

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