Sasha Norris didn't hesitate to embark on a field-hockey journey despite the relative comfort of safety football had offered her as a youngster.

After all, the concept of the beautiful game was identical — that is, put the ball into the net — but the thrill of picking up a stick and running with it enticed Norris.

"That's kind of a part of why I play [because] there's a risk [in what is] just a speedy and exciting game that is unpredictable," says the Woodford House Year 12 pupil who will represent the Hawke's Bay under-18 girls' team against their Australian state visiting counterparts in the annual two-day Queensland Challenge at the Park Island turf in Napier. They play at 5pm tomorrow and again at 6.45pm on Thursday.

The Bay boys play their Queensland counterparts at 6.45pm tomorrow and 5pm on Thursday.

Advertisement

Norris, who was part of the team which won both matches last year, says hockey came with a modicum of "natural talent" but quite a bit of regimented training was required to arrive at this juncture of her game.

It was as a Year 5 pupil at Te Mata Primary School that she first picked up a stick during a PE class to perform some basic skills.

"At the time I was playing football so I decided to pick up hockey and found it was my sport," she said.

The former Havelock North Intermediate pupil says nobody in her family is into hockey although her cousins are also striving to carve a niche on the turf.

"It was kind of a whole new thing for my parents," says the 17-year-old of Nicole and Andrew Norris who took her to watch the Queenslanders when she was a Year 8 pupil.

"They get quite involved nowadays."

A member of the champion Central U18 girls' team, Norris relishes the challenge because it brings talent from across the ditch to the provincial backyard.

"We get to experience the different ways in which they play."

She alludes to how the Aussies are renowned for their razzle and dazzle concocted in a hot-and-humid environment, thus offering the Bay an opportunity to grow its portfolio of experiences.

Lucca Burley and Sasha Norris cross sticks while training at Park Island, Napier. Photo/Warren Buckland
Lucca Burley and Sasha Norris cross sticks while training at Park Island, Napier. Photo/Warren Buckland

An eloquent Norris believes the Bay teams tend to embrace "a clinical" style of game where the "ball does most of the work sort of thing", where they simply toil for each other.

Nevertheless, she suspects the Queenslanders are dynamic and have something different up their sleeves each year.

It goes without saying winning the series again is imperative for the Greg Nicol-coached girls who Norris feels have what it takes to emulate that feat. Bar two, all played last year.

Nicol, who has mentored to Black Sticks level as an assistant, came into her mindset a little more since last year during the Central age-group training.

"He wanted us to try to push to the hardest we could to be the best prepared for this trial."

Norris was nursing a quad injury six weeks from the trials but Nicol suggested she take four weeks to recuperate and arrive fresh for the appraisal.

"He takes everything into consideration ... and, if need be, take you aside to tell you certain things you need to fix," she explains, adding Nicol makes them think outside the square.

No doubt she harbours desire to represent her country as a Black Stick but tertiary education, including abroad, will dictate terms. Criminology beckons as a career path.

Lucca Burley echoes Norris' sentiments of playing pedigree players from overseas.

"I've watched them before and they've certainly shown us how to play hockey a few times," says Burley who is under the tutelage of Black Sticks veteran Shea McAleese.

The New Zealand U18 representative, who made his debut with the age-equivalent Central team following a Bay U15 stint, says the tourists will have some national reps as well.

The Napier Boys' High School Year 11 pupil says the Queenslanders bring aggression with players who have a nose for planting the ball into the back of the net.

Consequently that aspect becomes a pet project for the 15-year-old striker.

"That's probably something I pride myself on — putting the ball in the back of the net."

The former Taradale Intermediate pupil says commitment and a willingness to be a "loose cannon" for the collective helps.

Burley, whose father, Craig Burley, is Bay U18 co-assistant coach with Sam Hanks, believes in falling back to help the halves create opportunities rather than just waiting for them to thread crosses for goals.

The former Bledisloe Primary School pupil, who started playing at 10, feels critical decisions help find a balance in passing or going for goal.

Burley plays for Te Awa in the senior men's club competition. They finished third in the playoffs after beating Taupo who have been competing for the past two years.

"I originally played soccer and then somehow kept on going down to the turf to watch dad play and coach so I just got into it," says the former Napier City Rovers player.

Unlike Norris, he didn't find a smooth transition in codes.

"I felt like picking up the stick was the hardest thing because you couldn't transfer a lot of skills from soccer to hockey with the changes in ball size and changing what you're using [leg to sticks]."

He laughs when asked if the hard ball was an issue although he didn't give it any thought.

"I've got a few scars from being hit a few times on the shin and stuff," says Burley.

He salutes McAleese as mentor and immaculate stick work.

"He'll definitely be a key factor to our campaign this year," he says of the Olympian and professional.

NBHS teammate and goalkeeper Luke Elmes also is a national U18 rep in the Bay side. The Bay players are familiar with each other because of Hastings Boys' High School's and Lindisfarne College's involvement with the schoolboys' Rankin Cup tourney.

Only five players are returning from last year's side but have come through the lower age-group ranks.

Burley wants to become a Black Stick and intends to take a gap year to travel to Europe to broaden his hockey horizons.

Lucca Burley is a national age-group member who has aspirations to make the Black Sticks although he intends to take a gap year to see hockey in Europe after school. Photo/Warren Buckland
Lucca Burley is a national age-group member who has aspirations to make the Black Sticks although he intends to take a gap year to see hockey in Europe after school. Photo/Warren Buckland

HB U18 boys: Marcus Ambrose, George Bergman, Lucca Burley, Marcus Collier, Sachan Dadrah, Upinder Dadrah, Kopiri Downs-Williams, Luke Elmes, Sean Findlay, Logan Gee, William Kerr, Bailey Kirkpatrick, George Knobloch, Mason Lowe, Jay Rerekura, Fergus Whyte, Sam Williams.

Coach: Shea McAleese.
Co-assistant coaches: Craig Burley, Sam Hanks.
Manager: Rob Jones.

HB U18 girls: Emily Boyle, Kaitlin Cotter, Molly Frame, Teegan Geary, Summer Gray, Bella Greig, Lexie Heaphy, Rileigh Knapp, Gabriella Luscombe, Grace Nancarrow, Sasha Norris, Olivia Shannon, Arabella Sheild, Denby-Rose Tait, Jess Tucker, Lily Verhoeven, Monique Way.

Coach: Greg Nicol.
Co-ast coaches: Gary Heal and Clayton Elmes.
Manager: Hallie Sullivan.