The Kookaburras are human.
It is not something we have often seen at the Commonwealth Games, where they have won all six gold medals in the competition’s history.
But they almost missed the gold medal match, after an aggressive, inspired, and amped-up England side threatened to pull off an incredible upset.
The Kookaburras sailed through the pool stage, as they so often do, racking up big score lines and making big statements.
It was different against the Englishmen.
They smothered the world’s top-ranked team and stifled their flow.
They walked a fine line, and at times stepped over it too, receiving two yellow cards and a green card during the game.
“You play the Aussies, they come out hard, they look to throw punches, to knock you down, and kill the game,” England captain Zach Wallace said.
“The plan was to go out and throw punches back, and we did that. We got them running the other way. I just went at them, it was like a boxing match.”
If it went to a points decision, it might have gone in England’s favor, but the Kookaburras found a way to land the knockout blow, and come back from 2-0 down, to win 3-2.
Kookaburras grind to ‘ugly’ win
The hosts started with intent and looked especially dangerous on the counterattack.
Phil Roper put them ahead in the first quarter, then a penalty stroke in the second quarter saw Wallace give them a 2-0 lead.
“They play a bit different, a bit more of a marking team, so they definitely put us under pressure early,” Kookaburra midfielder Daniel Beale said.
“Ideally, we don’t like to go two goals down that early in the game. (But) we trust in this group to be able to come back from anywhere.”
And the comeback arrived, in a slow, measured grind, rather than in a blaze of glory.
“Things don’t go your way, you have to crawl your way out, fight a little bit, you probably need a bit of luck” co-captain Eddie Ockenden said.
“I didn’t question that we would be able to do it. It’s not like we got on a big run, we just had to edge our way through a bit of attrition.”
“They started the game very well, and we were certainly on the backfoot,” Kookaburra coach Colin Batch said.
“I think they got a lot of confidence from that situation, so it was a huge challenge just to get up to our level and it took a long time to get there.”
One of the Kookaburras’ most reliable sources for goals, Blake Govers, again delivered when needed from a penalty corner to make it 2-1 at half-time.
And Jacob Anderson’s tomahawk drew them level, but the winning goal was the most contentious.
Anderson took a quick free hit to penetrate the circle, and Beale capitalized to score.
It was reviewed to see whether Anderson had stopped the ball dead before taking the hit, and the goal stood.
“Probably one of the more timely goals in my career, very glad to put that one in the net and for the referral to stand,” Beale said.
England raided the Kookaburras in the final minutes, even substituting their goalkeeper for an extra field player to try and force a shootout.
And while overall the Kookaburras weren’t at their best, they still produced what was required when needed.
There were crucial saves from goalkeeper Andrew Charter, Flynn Ogilvy alert on the post to bat away an attempt off a penalty corner, Jeremy Hayward blocking a shot on goal at the death, and Ockenden an overall calming presence to take the sting out of England’s bite .
The celebrations, or lack thereof, said a lot at the end of the match too.
As some England players slumped to the ground in despair, the Australians smiled, hugged, and high-fived, but there were no wild celebrations befitting a semi-final win.
“We didn’t play our best but you can win ugly as well and that’s a good sign for us,” said Govers.
The Kookaburras are accustomed to gold, and on the final day of the Games, they get a shot at it once again, when they face India in the decider.