Winning a bronze medal at a major international indoor hockey tournament was the highlight of a hectic two weeks for Masterton brothers Benedict and Daniel van Woerkom.
The Dalefield premier players represented New Zealand in the Sultan Nazrin Shah Cup, a six nations FIH indoor hockey tournament played in Malaysia, where they made the podium with a gutsy 6–4 win over Australia in a tense bronze medal playoff.
Even making the third-fourth playoff was a long shot heading into the last round-robin clash against Hong Kong, with the Kiwis needing to win by 34 goals and other results to go their way.
New Zealand started the tournament with a 3–2 loss to eventual champions Namibia after leading 2–0 with 10 minutes to play. A two-hour turnaround proved too much as they were beaten 6–1 by South Africa.
A 2–1 defeat of Malaysia, the team’s first win as a group in the last 12 months and believed to be New Zealand’s first win in an official FIH indoor hockey event, was followed by a 6-4 loss to Australia after holding a 4–2 lead in the final 10-minute quarter.
That left New Zealand needing to improve their goal difference by 34, a seemingly insurmountable task given that higher-ranked teams had beaten Hong Kong by margins in the 20-goal region and a South African win over Malaysia to sneak into fourth place.
The prospects of overhauling that margin had improved but still looked slim at halftime, with New Zealand leading 14–0, but a 21–1 blitz in the final two quarters, coupled with the South African victory, was good enough to qualify for a trans-Tasman grudge match.
New Zealand clicked in the bronze medal decider, winning 6–4 in what man of the match Benedict van Woerkom reckoned was their best effort since their return to the international scene.
“We played really well in that final match,” he said.
“We were up 4–1 at halftime, it was 4–4 at three-quarter time, and then we scored a goal with about five minutes to go, and then they took their goalkeeper and we scored to make it 6–4.”
The brothers’ hectic schedule continued on their return to New Zealand as part of the Wairarapa team at the national tournament.
Wairarapa had a first-up loss to Waikato, followed by wins over Palmerston North and Wellington to qualify for a semifinal against defending champions North Harbour. That match finished in a 2–2 draw, with North Harbour progressing to the final as the higher-ranked team.
Benedict van Woerkom was thrilled with the result from the team, which went into the tournament undermanned after late withdrawals because of covid.
“It was awesome to get that back up and running from a Wairarapa perspective, and hopefully, we can get a local competition going and grow the game in that manner.”
Next up for Benedict and Daniel is the Oceania Cup against Australia, a World Cup qualifying series in early 2024.