Black Sticks boosted by return of Sharland

By Steven Holloway

The New Zealand women's hockey team will be boosted by the return of captain Kayla Sharland when they take on the United States in their final group match tomorrow. Photo / Getty Images.
The New Zealand women's hockey team will be boosted by the return of captain Kayla Sharland when they take on the United States in their final group match tomorrow. Photo / Getty Images.

The New Zealand women's hockey team will be boosted by the return of captain Kayla Sharland when they take on the United States in their final group match of the Four Nations tournament in Whangarei tomorrow.

After a self-imposed break from the rigors of international hockey, the 176-cap international is tonight flying from Christchurch to Auckland, and will tomorrow play for the Black Sticks for the first time since the London Olympics.

The Black Sticks impressed with a win over Olympic silver medallists Argentina last night after an opening loss to Korea and will be further bolstered by a fully recharged and energetic Sharland tomorrow.

The 26-year old had always planned on returning to the international scene but felt that now was the right time, with the qualification series for the 2014 World Cup looming in June.

"I did enjoy my time off but I'm at the stage now where I'm ready to get back into it," she said.

"Probably a couple of months ago I wasn't, but I think for me personally the timing was spot on.

"I wouldn't want to be going back into it if I wasn't excited, so I'm ready to give it my best shot, it might not be pretty but I'm hoping I can do something to help out."

Sharland missed the first two games of the series due to her work commitments as a territories sales manager for DB Breweries, but is fighting fit for tomorrow's game.

"I'm feeling the best I have ever felt since I did my ACL in 2006, so that's positive and reinforced how I probably needed that break to refresh and get my body right."

A win for the Black Sticks tomorrow will lock up a spot for them in the final on Sunday but Sharland is wary of the USA threat.

"The USA are a strong side. They've had a few changes but still have a core group of good players who were at London. They also have a new coach so may have a new structure. I will be watching a lot of video tonight before tomorrow's game."

There have been a lot of changes to the Black Sticks since Sharland last played but she met the majority of the new faces at an induction camp before the team flew out to Argentina in February.

"There have been a lot of changes since the Olympics, a lot of people unavailable and a few changes here and there. I wouldn't say I know them all really well but I've met most of them by now."

The New Zealand national selectors are using the Four Nations tournament as an opportunity to test the countries best young talent against some of the top international sides in the world.

And those who impress will book a spot on the plane to Rotterdam in June, where the Black Sticks will play in the FIH World League Semi-Final, which is the new qualification event for the 2014 World Cup.

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