CHRISTMAS has come early for 15 of Australia's best hockey players, snapped up at auction for the newly-formed Hockey India League, the country's equivalent to the lucrative Indian Premier League cricket competition.
While the million-dollar paydays handed out to their cricketing cousins were nowhere to be seen (each of the 24 franchises was limited to a total of $US600,000), the money on offer is expected to extend the careers of some players and even attract more people to the sport.
Five-time world player of the year Jamie Dwyer was the highest-priced Aussie, snapped up by the Punjab Warriors for $78,200 for the four-week competition.
Other Australian players to attract the big dollars were Eddie Ockenden (Utter Pradesh Wizards - $65,000), Mark Knowles (Punjab Warriors - $57,000), Joel Carroll (Mumbai Magicians - $56,000) and Mathew Swann (Mumbai Magicians - $51,000).
Knowles said he watched the auction live in Tasmania where he is spending Christmas with his wife's family, and said it was a life-changing event.
"I'm very, very, very happy," the 28-year-old said.
"It will certainly make it easier to make decisions about playing for longer.
"I'm closer to the end of my career than the start, but it doesn't put so much pressure on to get a job."
While Knowles said the competition had come "about 10 years too late" for players like him and Dwyer, it would be great for the next generation of stars.
"For someone like Matt Butturini or Joel Carroll, to have it so early in their careers is fantastic," Knowles said.
"It will make a massive difference to what we can do in the sport Australia. Most guys even struggle for stick sponsors. Now, if guys are looking at AFL or soccer or hockey, they'll have more of a look at our sport."
Until the advent of the HIL, due to run from January 16 to February 10, the top players had to make do on the annual Hockey Australia contract of about $60,000-a-year, plus a fraction of that for the best players able to get a start in a professional league in the Netherlands.
Knowles said he hoped his previous success in India - he played in victorious Kookaburras teams in the 2010 World Cup and 2010 Commonwealth Games - would rub off on the Punjab Warriors.
"The squads look amazing ... very even, but we've got a very nice looking team," he said.
As well as himself and Dwyer, the Warriors, to be coached by Hockeyroos coach Barry Dancer, also includes Kookaburras regulars Kieran Govers, Simon Orchard, Chris Ciriello and Rob Hammond, as well as Argentinian captain Lucas Rey and outstanding Dutch goalkeeper Jaap Stockmann.
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