Hockey: Hockey coach backs youngsters to push for places

By David Leggat

Black Sticks coach Mark Hager is encouraged by new players challenging regulars for selection. Photo / Photosport
Black Sticks coach Mark Hager is encouraged by new players challenging regulars for selection. Photo / Photosport

By Mark Hager's estimation, there are half a dozen places on offer for New Zealand players at the World League semifinal in Brussels in June.

That's up from the three the Black Sticks' women's coach would have suggested if asked earlier this year. Put that down to Hager being impressed by the depth, rather than the dearth, of talent, he's seen.

The last opportunity for players to put their hands up for the trip to Brussels starts tomorrow with the first of a five-game series against India, the games split between Pukekohe and Hamilton.

Hager is taking an open mind into the series. At least 25 players will get game time in the series and it's unlikely what he considers his first choice team will play any as a unit before at least the last two games in Hamilton. All players will play at least three games.

"We're exposing players in this series and it's giving everyone an opportunity to stake a claim," Hager said.

Add in a game for New Zealand A - likely to be a mix of senior and development players - against the Indians at Lloyd Elsmore Park this afternoon and it's a solid block of work ahead for the women.

"Some of the younger players have stepped up in the last four months, not only within the Black Sticks, but also just outside.

"We're giving people like Tarryn Davey, who is in our development squad, an opportunity."

New Zealand are without six leading players - goalkeeper Georgia Barnett, attackers Gemma McCaw, Anita Punt, Sophie Cocks, Charlotte Harrison and Petrea Webster - this season, all taking time out. But Hager is liking what he's seeing from players coming through.

"I think maybe we're even in a better space and yes, we've lost some quality players, but also picked up some quality talent [which] we didn't know how good they could be," Hager said.

He expects India, ranked No12, seven spots lower than New Zealand, to be tough opponents.

"They've got a new coach so there'll be new ideas and, from what I've seen in World League 2 [which India won in Vancouver in April], they are experienced and have talented players who can hurt you on any given day."

Hager wants to see if his players can step up against India. That will go some way to sorting out his final selection for the World League semifinal, which begins on June 21.

Black Sticks v India

Tomorrow: Pukekohe, 3pm
Tuesday: Pukekohe, 7pm
Wednesday: Pukekohe, 7pm
Friday: Hamilton, 2pm
Saturday: Hamilton, 2pm

- NZ Herald

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