Australia's Tom Craig shoots as Sam van der Ven of the Netherlands attempts to guard the goals at the State Netball Hockey Centre in Melbourne.  Picture: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images
Australia's Tom Craig shoots as Sam van der Ven of the Netherlands attempts to guard the goals at the State Netball Hockey Centre in Melbourne. Picture: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Kookaburras blow lead in Hockey Pro League opener

AUSTRALIA had a three-goal lead before losing a shootout to arch rivals the Netherlands in a thrilling start to the new men's Hockey Pro League in hot conditions in Melbourne on Saturday.

The Kookaburras led 5-2 at three-quarter time but wilted against a superb counterattack by the Dutch, who defied Saturday's 33-degree heat to level at 5-5 and force the shootout, in which they were too clinical and prevailed 4-1.

It was a reprise of the teams' December World Cup semi-final in India, where the Dutch also prevailed in a shootout.

Holland took two points from the match and Australia one, with man-of-the-match Tom Craig understandably dejected by the result.

"Any team who blows a three-goal lead can't be too happy," said the NSW striker, who opened the scoring in just the third minute.

Until the final break, it looked like Australia's game, but defensive errors and careless passing allowed the Dutch to exert pressure and they roared back to life - despite converting only one of seven penalty corners.

Jonas de Geus (corner), Billy Bakker and Bjorn Kelleman punished a disjointed Australian defence to rescue what had seemed a lost cause.

The Dutch also had the better of the first quarter with dangerous counterattacks, but Australia led 2-1 at the break thanks to goals by Craig and rookie Tim Brand.

In the middle two quarters, Australia took control and finished off some excellent passages of play as the heat seemed to have taken its toll on the Europeans.

Eddie Ockenden, Trent Mitton and Lachlan Sharp shared the goals as the home team started to gel in front of a sellout crowd.

But with two players in the sin bin to start the last quarter, Australia surrendered the early advantage and the Netherlands took their chances.

The Pro League has a weekly home-and-away format featuring the world's top eight teams.

Australia must back up against world No.1 Belgium on Sunday in Melbourne, while the Dutch travel to Spain in a fortnight.

The top four teams play finals in June in Holland.

- AAP