Australia v USA water polo rivalry hotting up for three-Test Series in Brisbane

Aaron Younger Maggie Steffens Rowie Webster Jesse Smith
CAPTAIN'S CALL: Rival captains Aaron Younger (Aussie Sharks), Maggie Steffens (USA), Rowie Webster (Aussie Stingers) and Jesse Smith (USA) all smiles in Brisbane today on the eve of their three-Test Series starting tomorrow night. Photo: Courtesy Water Polo Australia (Harvpix).

Australian-USA rivalry in sports has generated history-making moments on both sides of the Pacific – probably none greater than Australia II’s America’s Cup win off the coast of Rhode Island in 1983.

That rivalry has extended primarily through swimming, basketball and water polo with 2020 the 20th anniversary of Australia’s heart-stopping final second women’s Olympic water polo gold medal win over the USA in Sydney.

That rivalry will be rekindled in Brisbane this week with Australia and the USA kick-starting their Olympic campaigns in earnest with a three-Test double-header series at the Brisbane Aquatic Centre – starting tomorrow night.

It will be a rare opportunity to witness two of the world’s best water polo nations dueling in the pool in the countdown to Tokyo 2020 – less than 200 days away and the four captains Aaron Younger (Aussie Sharks), Maggie Steffens (USA) Rowie Webster (Aussie Stingers) and Jesse Smith (USA) came together at Brisbane’s South Bank today, to promote the Series – a pleasant change of pace in this cricket-crazed country.

The women’s series will feature 2019 World and 2016 Olympic champions the US up against the Australian Stingers, bronze medallists at the 2019 World Championships while in the men the Australian Sharks (6th in this year’s World’s) will be looking to continue their renaissance, facing off against a US team which finished ninth in Gwangju and beat Australia by a goal in Gwangju.

December 16, 2017; Santa Margarita Catholic High School, Santa Margarita, California, USA; Waterpolo: USA Water Polo Exhibition Series: USA vs Netherlands; USA Goalkeeper Ashleigh Johnson with a savePhoto credit: Catharyn Hayne- KLC fotos

OUT-STRETCHED: US goalie Ashleigh Johnson shows the skills that makes her the world’s No 1 keeper. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

The Aussie men, coached by former Croatian National team player Elvis Fatovic, upset Montenegro 13-11 at the World’s and were beaten 10-9 by Hungary in a controversial quarter-final before beating Greece and eventually losing to Serbia 13-9 in the fifth-sixth play-off.

Fatovic has been National team head coach with the Sharks since 2013, a team led by Richard CampbellGeorge FordJoe Kayes and Aaron Younger who are very much on the rise in international water polo finishing ninth at the 2016 Olympics in Rio; eighth, seventh ad sixth at the last three FINA World Championships, in 2015, 2017 and 2019.

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FRAMEWORK: Aussie shooter Joe Kayes armed and dangerous. Photo Courtesy: Water Polo Australia (Harvpix)

The US women is the benchmark team in women’s water polo, finishing 2019 undefeated with 37 wins, following its recent win in the 2019 Holiday Cup in Princeton, New Jersey taking its impressive overall winning streak to an extraordinary 68.

Aussie Stingers Captain Rowie Webster, says there is no better way to kick off an Olympic year then with quality international competition at home.

“With less than 200 days to go until the Olympic Games and you can really start to feel the excitement among the squads and what better way to start the Olympic year then by hosting USA on home soil,” said Webster.

“The US women’s are the best team in the world, but when it comes to facing them, we’ll be approaching it how we do every international match.

“The key for us will be to focus on what we need to do, not the opposition. We need to look at the tactics we want to play and control our game.”

Australian players from the Sydney 2000 gold medal team will be in Brisbane with Debbie Watson, arguably Australia’s finest ever women’s water polo player, part of the event announcing team.

“The culture those women created and legacy they have left, certainly won’t be lost on us during tournament as we take on the USA, 20 years after women’s water polo got its start at the Olympics,” said Webster.

The US men opened its Olympic year with a European training camp and matches against Greece and Italy before returning home to re-set for the tour down under.

Meanwhile the Australian Men’s and Women’s teams will join the Australian sporting community to support various bushfire appeals, donating $100 for every goal scored during the upcoming Test match series in Brisbane.

Water Polo Australia (WPA) will support different charities and volunteer services for each Test, with money raised from the First Test to support State Volunteer Fire Services, the Second Test aiding the Red Cross and the Third Test assisting World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature.

Water Polo Australia acting CEO, Richard McInnes, said the Water Polo community like the rest of Australia is feeling the impact of the bushfire crisis across the country.

“So many Australians, including the sporting community, have rallied to support all those impacted by the bushfire crisis across our country,” McInnes said.

“We wanted to show our appreciation for the great work of so many volunteer organisations and charities who are on the front line supporting our communities.

AUSTRALIA v USA TEST SERIES

First Test: Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Time: 5:00pm Women’s Test, 6:30pm Men’s Test

Venue: Brisbane Aquatic Centre

Funds raised from both matches will support: State Volunteer Fire Services (in NSW, Vic, SA, WA, Tas & Qld)

Second Test: Thursday, January 16, 2020

Time: 6:00pm Men’s Test, 7:30pm Women’s Test

Venue: Brisbane Aquatic Centre

Funds raised from both matches will support: The Red Cross

Third Test: Saturday, January 18, 2020

Time: 5:00pm Women’s Test, 6:30pm Men’s Test

Venue: Brisbane Aquatic Centre

Funds raised from both matches will support: WWF

For all the details of the Australia vs USA test match series – click here for more.

AUSTRALIA v USA Rivalry

In the famed 1983 America’s Cup, Australia II were down 1-3 after four races before staging one of sport’s stunning turn-arounds to break America’s 132-year stranglehold on the “Auld Mug” winning 4-3.

It led to one of the most famous lines from any Australian Prime Minister when the late Bob Hawke at the height of celebrations in Perth declared a national holiday, saying “any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up (for work) today is a bum.”

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BROTHERS IN ARMS: Australia’s victorious 4x100m freestyle boys (L-R) Ashleigh Callus, Chris Fydler, Michael Klim and Ian Thorpe. Photo Courtesy: Olympic.org.

Then in Sydney 20 years ago this year Australia sunk the Americans in the famous 4x100m freestyle relay showdown with Ian Thorpe over-powering Gary Hall Jnr in one of the greatest ever Olympic relays.

Then towards the end of the Games the Aussies struck more gold when Yvette Higgins broke a 3-3 deadlock to snatch a dramatic 4-3 gold medal over the US with 1.3 seconds left on the clock.

And just last year Australia broke a 55 year basketball drought, with the Patty Mills-Andrew Bogut led Boomers shocking the reigning world champions the US 98-94 in Melbourne

But the red, white and blues have certainly had their fair share of domination – better than in women’s basketball. In three Olympic campaigns in 2000, 2004 and 2008, USA and Australia have faced off for the gold medal with the Americans winning on all three occasions.