Round 3 of the Australian Hockey League (AHL) provided some exciting contests over the weekend as many of the leading teams failed to achieve maximum points in their double header clashes in Canberra, Darwin, Melbourne and Perth.

The quiet achievers of the Men’s Competition, the NSW Waratahs, swept to the top of the points table after gaining maximum points against the Canberra Labor Club Lakers, while the previously undefeated Queensland Blades struggled against the SmokeFree WA Thundersticks and only achieved one point out of the weekend’s matches.

While the Waratahs took an easy 3-0 win on Saturday in Canberra, Sunday’s match proved a tougher contest as the Lakers kept up battle pace from start to finish. The goals were scored one after the other from opposing sides, with both teams receiving seven penalty corners in at least one half of the match. Paul MacKinnon opened the scoring for the Lakers with a penalty corner conversion in the ninth minute, however NSW youngster Eli Matheson soon connected with the ball to score two quick goals.

With the scores level at half time, both teams fought hard through the second half as the Waratahs took the lead to 4-2, only to concede a penalty stroke in the 47th minute. The Waratahs clinched the win, but were unable to relax until the final whistle in an exciting match that kept the crowd on the edge of their seats.

Meanwhile in Perth, excitement levels were as high as promised as the Queensland Blades narrowly scored a 1-0 victory over the SmokeFree WA Thundersticks on Saturday with an extra time golden goal from Kiel Brown in the 77th minute.

Once again, Sunday’s game provided the entertainment as the Thundersticks came out like lightning, taking an early lead with a goal from Daniel Trigwell in the 12th minute. The Blades hit back and more field goals from both teams flowed, but it was the Thundersticks who had the half time lead with the score at 3-2. Keeping up the pace, the Thundersticks hit another two goals, and despite a late goal from Queensland’s Nathan Eglington, the West Australians were victorious in not only gaining points but also in taking the glory of being the first team to beat the Blades in 2005 and knock them from their top spot on the points table.

The MIA Tassie Tigers were also rejoicing as they scored their first victory of the season in Melbourne, downing the Azuma Vikings 3-1 in Sunday’s game. After being defeated 3-0 by a dominant Vikings team on Saturday, the Tigers relished in the Melbourne heat and took an early lead with a field goal from youngster Paul Ancher, who is in his first year of AHL competition. Travis Brooks soon replied for the Vikings, but the teams then held each other out as the two goal keepers worked hard to clear the ball. The Tigers were the ones to break free in the second half as a penalty corner goal from David Guest took them ahead, and striker Marcus Richardson sealed the win in the 57th minute with a field goal.

There were also mixed results in the other matches of the weekend in Darwin, as the wind from Cyclone Ingrid buoyed the Vodafone Territory Stingers to score a 4-2 victory last night over the Adelaide Hotshots, denying them the opportunity to take the lead of the points table. The Hotshots displayed their peak form in Saturday’s match as they took a clear-cut 4-2 win over the Stingers, however were unable to maintain the performance in the second game, perhaps affected by a 40 minute break in the match caused by a power cut, as the Stingers took a comprehensive win with field goals flowing from Dash Hewett, John Keirs and Travis Carroll, following an early penalty corner goal from David Skippings.

In the women’s competition, the heat was taken from the firepower of the Queensland Scorchers as they lost their first game of the season last night to the 2004 champions, the SmokeFree WA Diamonds in Perth. Having enjoyed easy victories in the past two rounds, the Scorchers felt the pressure on Saturday, but managed to take a 2-1 win. However the second match yesterday saw the same swing of goals that occurred in the men’s games, as the Diamond’s Shelly Liddelow opened the scoring but was quickly followed by a penalty corner goal from Renee Allen of the Scorchers. The scores were level at half time, with each team scoring another in the second half, but it was West Australia’s Bree Murray who scored a late field goal to achieve their most exciting win of the season.

Meanwhile in Canberra, the NSW Arrows’ misery continued as they were yet again unable to score a victory in regular time, and were pushed to extra time in both games against the Canberra Labour Club Strikers, as happened last week in their matches against the Diamonds. In Saturday’s game, both teams played with determination making the match an even and fast paced contest but keeping the scores at nil all in the first half. Arrows’ player Fiona Johnson made an explosive start to the second half, firing the ball into the back of the net to take the lead, but Tonina Staunton of the Strikers ensured they stayed in the game after scoring in the 58th minute. With both teams unable to score in two periods of extra time, the match went to a penalty stroke shoot out and it was Megan Staunton’s inspiring goal keeping which won the match for the Strikers. Scores were locked again in Sunday’s match, but this time Peta Gallagher managed to hit the backboards to take the golden goal and the extra time points for the Strikers.

The Azuma Vipers had a far more clean cut run, taking maximum points from their clashes against the Wrest Point Van Demons in Melbourne, and jumping to fourth spot on the points table. The Van Demons came out hard in Saturday’s match and did not allow the Vipers over the half way line for at least the first 10 minutes. However the Vipers managed to hold on and although play was hardly inspirational, they scored a 2-0 victory. Sunday’s match saw the Vipers play a more impressive, open and flowing game and dominate a tired-looking Van Demons team, with an early break set up by Ngaire Smith allowing Leah Merrett to commence the scoring. A 3-0 lead at half time saw the Vipers looking like keeping a clean scoresheet however a lapse in defence gave Abby Douglas a goal for the Van Demons, but the Vipers held on to win 4-1.

In Darwin, the Adelaide Suns maintained their impressive and improved form for 2005, undeterred by the adverse weather of the tropics, scoring two victories over the Territory Pearls. A 4-1 win on Saturday came from a well-drilled Suns team which saw the Pearls unable to gain any advantage as Jessica Shakes kept her name on the scoreboard. Sunday’s match was rather more even, with the scores remaining at nil at half time, however a lucky deflection by Kate Wood just after allowed the Suns to gain the lead and Anna Ramsey added to the score to win 2-0 and keep the Suns in third place on the ladder.

Round 4 of AHL takes place next weekend, with matches in Adelaide, Brisbane, Hobart and Sydney, in the last double header games around the country before the finals weeks commence on 28 March for the Men in Brisbane and 4 April for the Women in Canberra.

Results Men
Saturday
NSW Waratahs 3 defeated Canberra Labor Club Lakers 0
Queensland Blades 1 defeated SmokeFree WA Thundersticks 0 (extra time)
Azuma Vikings 3 defeated MIA Tassie Tigers 0
Adelaide Hotshots 4 defeated Vodafone Territory Stingers 2

Sunday
NSW Waratahs 4 defeated Canberra Labor Club Lakers 3
SmokeFree WA Thundersticks 4 defeated Queensland Blades 3
MIA Tassie Tigers 3 defeated Azuma Vikings 1
Vodafone Territory Stingers 4 defeated Adelaide Hotshots 2

Results Women
Saturday
Canberra Labor Club Strikers 1 drew NSWIS Arrows 1 (Strikers won 3-1 after penalty strokes)
Queensland Scorchers 2 defeated SmokeFree WA Diamonds 1
Azuma Vipers 2 defeated Wrest Point Casino Van Demons 0
Adelaide Suns 2 defeated Territory Pearls 0

Sunday
Canberra Labor Club Strikers 3 defeated NSWIS Arrows 2 (extra time)
SmokeFree WA Diamonds 4 defeated Queensland Scorchers 3
Azuma Vipers 4 defeated Wrest Point Casino Van Demons 1
Adelaide Suns 4 defeated Territory Pearls 1

Points Table - Men
Waratahs 15
Blades 13
Hotshots 13
Vikings 9
Thundersticks 6
Stingers 6
Lakers 6
Tigers 4

Points Table – Women
Scorchers 15
Strikers 13
Suns 13
Vipers 12
Diamonds 10
Arrows 9
Van Demons 0
Pearls 0