Two of New Zealand's most decorated softballers will return to the New Zealand Black Sox squad for the 2017 world championships in Canada.

Captain Nathan Nukunuku and veteran infielder Brad Rona, who both boast four world championships gold medals, will be attending their sixth world series since 2000 at Whitehorse in Yukon from July 7-16.

Nukunuku, 36, was unavailable for the Black Sox during the recent domestic season due to work commitments.

Rona, a 40-year-old power hitter, has not played for New Zealand since the 2015 world championships but has earned selection after compelling club and representative form.

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Head coach Mark Sorenson, who played with Nukunuku and Rona on the Black Sox's 2000 and 2004 world champion teams, is delighted to have his two former team-mates back.
Sorenson said Nukunuku was "world class''.

"He sets high standards and he's a leader who inspires the guys around him.

"Thomas Enoka did a good job as captain on our tour of Argentina last year and at the Challenge Cup tournament here in February, and he will be the leader of the future, but the world series is a completely different situation and it will be great to have someone of Nathan's experience there.''

Sorenson said Rona - the top batter at March's national inter-club tournament - was always on the Black Sox's radar for 2017.

"He was the MVP at the ISC tournament in North America last year, the top club tournament in the world.

"We felt he could play a role for us as a backup first baseman, designated player or pinch hitter.

"We could see him coming off the bench in a key situation and doing the job for us. He's got global respect from opposition pitchers and if Brad's in the dugout or in the on-deck circle, they may pitch completely differently to the guy at the plate.''

Four pitchers

The Black Sox pitching staff will feature two world championships rookies - Auckland pitcher Campbell Gibson and Wellington's Josh Pettett.

Pettett proved his class in pitching the Black Sox to victory over Argentina in the Challenge Cup tournament in Auckland in February.

Gibson, who has toured with the Black Sox before, was the top pitcher in the Auckland club season and hurled Howick into the top-eight section at the national interclub for the first time.

"Campbell's got a really good drop ball and has the ability to hit spots at a high percentage,'' Sorenson said.

The pitching staff will also include Hutt Valley's Nik Hayes, who won a gold medal at Auckland in 2013, and United States-based left-hander Karl Gollan.

Gollan, a utility on the 2004 gold medal winning team, has not played in New Zealand for several seasons, but Sorenson sounded him out at the ISC tournament in Davenport, Iowa last year.

"He was extremely passionate about playing for the Black Sox.''

Gollan has earned selection over 2013 world champion pitcher Penese Iosefo (Canterbury), experienced Aucklanders Bayley Hoani and Heinie Shannon, and promising prospects Daniel Chapman (Auckland) and Ethan Johnston (Canterbury).

Sorenson said Gollan, who is in his mid-30s, offered something different to the Black Sox.
"We've got three big, hard throwing right handed pitchers, but Karl's provides us with a left-handed option. He's got the ability to hit the corners and has a good change-up.

"He's probably not going to start games, but we can use him in relief and he offers us another stick because he's still a very good hitter.''

Robust debates

Five players from the Black Sox's Challenge Cup squad - Iosefo, 2015 world championship outfielder-pitcher Jovaan Hanley, catcher Cory Timu and outfielders Alfons Ovienikovas and Jerome Haretuku have missed selection for the world championships.

Sorenson said the selectors had around 12 players vying for the final few positions on the squad and had some "robust debates''.

They settled on Kallan Compain - the MVP at the national interclub tournament - over Timu.

"It's hard on Cory, who is batting very well, but we wanted the best defensive catcher to back-up Zane [van Lieshout],'' Sorenson said.

"We think we've got a well-balanced squad with a lot of young guys who we've blooded but some older heads who give us that much more experience.

"We've now got in excess of 30 players who could play at international level and last time [2015] we had maybe 20 to 22.''

Black Sox squad

Pitchers: Campbell Gibson (Auckland), Karl Gollan (USA), Nik Hayes (Hutt Valley), Josh Pettett (Wellington).

Catchers: Kallan Compain (Auckland), Zane van Lieshout (Auckland).

Infielders: Tyron Bartorillo (Canterbury), Cole Evans (Auckland), Joel Evans (Hutt Valley), Josh Harbrow (Canterbury), Nathan Nukunuku (Auckland, CAPTAIN), Brad Rona (North Harbour).

Outfielders:/Designated Players: Ben Enoka (Auckland), Campbell Enoka (Auckland), Thomas Enoka (Auckland, VICE CAPTAIN), Isaac Fletcher (Auckland), Wayne Laulu (Wellington).