Hockey: Australia score two late goals to topple Black Sticks men

The Black Sticks men have slipped to a deflating defeat, falling to a 3-1 loss to Australia in Palmerston North.

Playing again for the first time in 15 months, after the COVID-19 pandemic, both New Zealand and Australia are searching for vital match practice leading into the Tokyo Olympics.

But two late goals to Australia proved to be the difference between the two sides, taking the first match of the four games series in style.

The Black Sticks' cause was hampered early on, as captain Blair Tarrant was forced from the field with an injury, after being struck in the head by a stray ball from Australia's Tom Wickham.

Tarrant was left needing stitches, and didn't return to the field.

Scoreless at the break, Australia finally opened their account in the third quarter through striker Tim Brand, who managed a deflection after a reverse-shot from teammate Daniel Beale.

The goal was a relief for Australia, who had a number of chances denied thanks to an outstanding individual effort from Black Sticks goalkeeper Leon Hayward - playing against brother Jeremy on the opposite side. 

However, Hayward's exit at halftime for replacement goalkeeper George Enersen gave Australia the opening they needed.

But the Black Sticks equalised through their freshest face, as 19-year-old Sean Findlay found the back of the net on his international debut, equalising with less than seven minutes in the final quarter.

World No.2 Australia showed their class though, scoring twice in the dying minutes to put the result to bed.

With scores at 1-1 and with the clock ticking away, Trent Mitton put Australia in front again, on hand to put away a rebound, before Wickham finished New Zealand off with a third with the time almost up, and sealing the Kookaburras' victory.

The Black Sticks women play later on Thursday, as part of four doubleheaders across Friday, Sunday and Tuesday.