Hockey: Naylor set to crack NZ test record in Aussie clash

By Daniel Richardson

Emily Naylor says she still gets nervous at tests. Photo / Christine Cornege
Emily Naylor says she still gets nervous at tests. Photo / Christine Cornege

When Suzie Muirhead stepped away from international hockey in 2006, she made a prediction.

The former Black Sticks' defender ended her career with a New Zealand record 238 test appearances but didn't think her name would stay at the top of the tree forever, and she was right too.

Emily Naylor is due to line up in her 239th international this afternoon when the Black Sticks play Australia at the Six Nations tournament in Hastings.

"I remember saying to Emily the day I retired that I was expecting her to get the record," Muirhead said. "I thought it might be a bit sooner because they play so many test matches these days."

Naylor made her test debut in 2004 when a nervous and excited 18-year-old, fresh out of high school, lined up against England.

"I still get nervous," Naylor said. "Even 200-odd games later, I still get the same nerves."

There aren't too many pre-match routines that have endured a decade of international hockey, although the 28-year-old defender listens to music to relax and still sings the national anthem before every game.

Someone who has been there for nearly all of the ride is Naylor's good friend Kayla Whitelock (nee Sharland), who was still at Palmerston North Girls' High School when she made her first test appearance in 2003.

"We've been best friends since we were 7," Whitelock said. "So we've grown up and played together throughout most of our hockey career. So it's cool Emily can reach this milestone."

Whitelock, who was due to collect her 212th cap today, would have been a good bet to catch Muirhead's tally first but she ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament in her knee in 2006, which saw her spend time out of the game, leaving Naylor to take the lead.

Now Whitelock and Naylor are the backbone of New Zealand's defence and the experienced pair will be crucial during today's must-win outing against their rivals from across the Tasman.

Black Sticks coach Mark Hager, who has coached the national side since 2008, said Naylor was an integral part of what they do.

"She's been a stalwart for New Zealand for many years and she's become a really good defender for us," Hager said. "She mops up a lot behind Kayla and she's quite a good leader off the field."

There's numerous passport stamps and plenty of miles in the legs after playing international sport for so long and Naylor hinted she may take a break at the end of this year after a heavy cycle of tournaments for the Black Sticks.

Next year's schedule promises to be lighter, outside of an Olympic qualifying tournament, which could allow her to take time off, and it would be hard to see Naylor turn down a shot at Rio given the 2004 games in Athens served as one of her career highlights.

Like Muirhead, Naylor also offered a prediction on the record. "We are just playing so many games each year, so some of these young girls will catch me pretty quickly."

- APNZ

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n2 at 23 Sep 2014 19:45:47 Processing Time: 563ms