``THE hard work starts now,'' said Launceston hockey player Nick Budgeon after achieving his lifelong dream with a call-up to the Kookaburras yesterday.
It has been a long road to national recognition for the 25-year-old which included a broken jaw and a move to Hobart, but he was delighted to be named in the team for the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh, Malaysia, from March 9 to 17.
``It's a huge sense of relief and I'm really excited,'' Budgeon said from Perth.
``I knew I was in the reckoning but you can never take playing for Australia for granted especially as the quality of the other guys I was up against was second to none.''
Having begun as a junior with Tamar Churinga, Budgeon won a Northern premiership with Launceston City before spending a couple of years with Doncaster in England. Then he moved to Eddie Ockenden's Hobart club North-West Grads.
The former Prospect High and Launceston College student, who is studying finance economics at the university in Hobart, said he was thrilled about the prospect of wearing the green and gold.
``You dream about it for years and there are periods when you don't think it will happen but we actually had the fitting for the kit today and that was pretty surreal,'' he said.
``It's everything you dream of, especially in hockey where we don't do it for the money but the love of the sport and the chance to represent your country.''
Named after the ninth King of Malaysia, who was an avid hockey fan, the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup is the world's longest invitational tournament.
Australia is the most successful team in its history having won six titles, and will be up against India, Pakistan, reigning champion New Zealand, Korea and host Malaysia.
Budgeon is one of five debutants in coach Ric Charlesworth's new-look team which also includes former Tamar Churinga teammate and London Olympic bronze medallist Tim Deavin, and is headlined by 2004 Olympic gold medallist Rob Hammond.
It is 10 days before the squad flies out and with Australia's stars having returned from the Hockey Indian League, Budgeon is expecting an intense training period in Perth.
He was disappointed that he would not debut alongside his long-time club and state teammate Ockenden, who broke a bone in his foot towards the end of his HIL campaign.
``We've grown up playing together and it would have been special to play my first game alongside him but he said that just means I'll have to make sure I play again,'' Budgeon said.
Tasmanian Institute of Sport hockey coach Andrew McDonald said the defender deserved the recognition and had the potential to take over from Chris Ciriello as the national team's flick specialist.
6pt UNIV INTO HELIOS; Starts in UNIV, breakback goes to helios, loops on breakbacks.Kookaburras squad: Tim BATES (WA), Chris BAUSOR (WA), George BAZELEY (VIC), Daniel BEALE (QLD), Craig BOYNE (WA), Nick BUDGEON (TAS), Joel CARROLL (NT), Andrew CHARTER (ACT), Tim DEAVIN (TAS), Matt GOHDES (QLD), Rob HAMMOND (QLD), Josh MILLER (NSW), Daniel MIRECKI (VIC), Trent MITTON (WA), Glenn SIMPSON (VIC), Jacob WHETTON (QLD), Tristan WHITE (NSW), Aran ZALEWSKI (WA).