The women’s finals series of the Australian Hockey League commences on Monday 4 April in Canberra with the conclusion of rounds five to seven during the week, culminating in the semi finals and final the following weekend which will determine the 2005 champion.
Competition hots up during the finals week with teams playing each other only once for double points, in comparison to previous rounds where teams had the opportunity to meet twice. The double points system means the final top four spots are up for grabs for almost all of the teams as the ladder can change significantly depending on results of the games. As with the previous rounds, all games will go to extra time and penalty strokes if required in order to declare a winner.
The women’s competition has seen swinging results throughout rounds one to four, with only the Queensland Scorchers playing consistently and dropping just one game to sit atop of the points table. The Adelaide Suns have also achieved the results to date and currently sit in second place.
However the pendulum may swing in a different direction during the intensive finals series week with both the top teams yet to meet the tougher challengers as the Canberra Labor Club Strikers, SmokeFree WA Diamonds, NSW Arrows and Azuma Vipers all hold out in the race for the top four spots. While it is statistically possible for the Wrest Point Van Demons and Territory Pearls to achieve a semi final berth, both these teams currently sit on zero points and without a stellar performance, it seems highly unlikely these teams will feature in the final four.
The Queensland Scorchers have been on fire since the start of the competition, strengthened by the inclusion of numerous Australian National Senior and Development Squad members. With three strikers sitting in the top ten goal scorers, including Suzie Faulkner and Renae Holmes as first and second spot respectively, and a strike rate of 39 goals over eight games, the Scorchers appear to be a formidable force. However a shock loss to last year’s champions, the SmokeFree WA Diamonds, showed the cracks in the Scorchers firepower, and opens up the field for others to burn their claim on the championship title.
Meanwhile the Adelaide Suns have shown vastly improved form since 2004, and although they have met some of the weaker teams, they displayed their strong potential by beating last year’s runners-up, the Canberra Labor Club Strikers. Driven by experienced Hockeyroo Katie Allen and talented striker Donna-Lee Patrick, the Suns may yet capitalise to shine brightly in the final.
Much more difficult to predict is the final placing of the teams languishing in the middle of the table. The Canberra Labor Club Strikers are determined to reach the final, having been there four times before and never taking out the title. With Hockeyroos Sarah Taylor, Nicole Arrold and Peta Gallagher, the Strikers have the depth of talent but will need to dig deep to strike the goal.
The SmokeFree WA Diamonds have missed the experience of Hockeyroo Emily Halliday, and with a changed team from that which won the title last year, have struggled to achieve the results they would be hoping for. However, after a shining win over the Scorchers, and a pointed defeat of the Van Demons, the Diamonds may yet find the sparkle they need to claim a consecutive title.
Youngster Jemma Buckley displayed her goal scoring prowess last week, while seasoned players Kim Walker and Bree Murray continue to drive the team.
Five time consecutive champions, the NSW Arrows have not yet managed to rediscover their penetrating form, with four games already pushed to extra time. Despite superb goal keeping from Toni Cronk, and sound defence from Jacklyn Eddy and Julie Gosper, the Arrows have failed to capitalise on opportunities and with the Scorchers and Suns still to play, the Arrows will need to shoot straight and strong to reach the final.
For the Azuma Vipers, a sting against the Suns and Diamonds will be critical to finding a way to the final four. Mixed results prove the Vipers have the talent, but consistency is the key to a move to the top.
The Territory Pearls and Wrest Point Van Demons will need to move heaven and hell to find a way to climb the ladder. The Pearls proved last year that anything is possible, after finishing the rounds with seven losses, they won both their classification matches to finish fifth, their highest ever placing. With young talent in both teams, they will be seeking to put points on the board and goals in the net, giving the players the opportunity to develop.
The Women’s Finals will be held on Sunday 10 April in Canberra at the National Hockey Centre.
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