Hockey: Black Sticks get closer to Olympic squad

Richard Petherick of New Zealand. Photo / Getty Images.
Richard Petherick of New Zealand. Photo / Getty Images.

The New Zealand men's hockey side will be chasing a breakthrough win at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia later this month but for many of the players they will also be chasing a spot in the Olympic side.

Black Sticks coach Shane McLeod named an 18-man squad to head to Malaysia and is getting closer to the 16-man squad he will call on to compete in London. Two injury replacements will be in London on standby.

Blair Hopping wasn't considered for the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, which New Zealand have never won, due to the birth of his baby boy and Steve Edwards is recovering from a groin injury but both are certainties for London. Shane Neal is another who has a strong claim to an Olympics spot but McLeod said he already knew what Neal could offer the side.

Instead, he will give chances to Ben Collier (Central), Nick Haig (Canterbury), Arun Panchia (Auckland) and Richard Petherick (Midlands) who didn't make the cut for last year's Champions Trophy.

The Olympic squad will be named in mid-June, meaning this is the last chance for fringe players. They will come up against Great Britain (ranked four in the world), Korea (6), Pakistan (8), Argentina (9) and India (10) as well as host country Malaysia (13), the only competing team not to have qualified for this year's Olympics.

As well as nailing down his Olympic squad, McLeod is keen to see his side push for a maiden Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. They have finished third four times since the first tournament in 1983 and, given they will be the third-ranked side in Malaysia at seven in the world, have a decent chance.

"We are looking at 12-13 players who are certainties [for London],'' McLeod said. "It's just a matter of making sure we cover off all of our bases by the time we get to London.

"I am really happy with how the whole squad is going and there is some genuine competition for those final few places.

"If I was able to achieve certainty on our Olympic side and we were able to play in the final game, then I would be really happy and we would have achieved a lot.''

They won't show their hand with all the penalty-corner variations they will use in London and are taking only one goalkeeper to the tournament in Kyle Pontifex. But they are stacked with experience including Phil Burrows (270 caps), Ryan Archibald (260) and captain Dean Couzins, who will make his 250th appearance during the tournament.

The Black Sticks will play practice matches against Great Britain and Malaysia prior to the tournament and will also play Australia in three tests in Cairns from June 17-26. They will then head to Europe in the first week of July where they will play against Belgium and Holland as part of their final preparations for the Olympics.

New Zealand squad for the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh, Malaysia, from May 24 to June 3: Nick Haig (Canterbury), Andy Hayward (Midlands), Simon Child (Auckland), Dean Couzins (c _ Auckland), Blair Hilton (Capital), Ryan Archibald (Auckland), Brad Shaw (Canterbury), Kyle Pontifex (Capital), Phil Burrows (Auckland), Blair Tarrant (Southern), Arun Panchia (Auckland), Shea McAleese (vc _ Central), Matt L'Huillier (Capital), Stephen Jenness (Capital), Richard Petherick (Midlands), Hugo Inglis (Southern), Ben Collier (Central), Nick Wilson (Central).

- APNZ

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