Suggest to Hawke's Bay canoe polo players Jacob McNeil and Toby Mills that their New Zealand under-21 men's development team defied the odds in Ireland and you'll get the thumbs up.

Despite having a month's notice and just one training camp before the Junior International Championships in Belfast their team of eight which included five players new to this age group won their grade at the five-day event which involved 41 teams from 16 countries.

Their team, which was managed by Hawke's Bay's Meryn Hinton, recorded four wins, one draw and two losses.

"We beat Lithuania 6-2 in the semifinals and Ulster 3-2 in the final with a buzzer-beating goal. Ulster had beaten us in round robin play," 18-year-old forward McNeil explained.


Former Karamu High School student McNeil and 17-year-old St John's College Year 13 student Mills were both members of New Zealand's under-18 Paddle Blacks team which won gold at the April Oceania championships in Sydney. The Belfast tournament was their first time playing for the Kiwis under-21 development team.

The pair are adamant the international experience gained in Belfast will enhance their chances of being selected in the New Zealand under-21 side for the world championships which will be staged in Rome during September next year. They are among 21 remaining trialists tussling for eight berths.

"We only had three players who had been to last year's world championships. But we had good morale and plenty of positive team banter which worked well," Mills said.

The back, who has been playing for six years, one less than McNeil, pointed out he will aim for more consistency over his entire game and higher fitness levels.

Three Hawke's Bay players, Hayley Cameron, Terri Morrison and Greer Edilson, were members of the New Zealand under-21 women's development team which finished second in their division in Belfast. They recorded one win, a draw and a loss before losing 5-2 to Great Britain in their final.

Their team also competed in the under-18 boys' grade for more match play and recorded four wins, two draws and five losses.

Seventeen-year-old Hastings Girls' High School student Cameron and 17-year-old Havelock North High School head girl Edilson were both members of the New Zealand under-21 team which won bronze at last year's world championships in Canada. Like Havelock North High School student Morrison, 17, the pair hope to make the New Zealand under-21 team for Rome.

"Hopefully we can finish among the medals again and we'll be aiming for gold," Cameron said.


"We're all eligible for the under-21 age group in 2022 if we miss selection for next year's worlds," Morrison said.

While Edilson has been playing for eight years Cameron and Morrison have been playing for seven. Edilson and Cameron were captain and vice-captain respectively of the Kiwi under-21 Paddle Ferns team which won silver at the Oceania champs and Morrison was a member of the Kiwi under-21 Paddle Ferns B side which won bronze.

"I'm looking for overall improvement in my play and better fitness levels which will come with more tougher matchplay," Morrison said.

Edilson ranked the Belfast tournament the second of her canoe polo highlights after last year's worlds.

"It was a learning experience individually and as a team."

All five Hawke's Bay players will represent Eastern at the Auckland-hosted inter-regional tournament at Labour Weekend.

Hinton pointed out the Belfast tournament was the second time the Junior International Championships have been staged.

"These champs will be held every two years between world champs years to help countries prepare for world champs. From a New Zealand point of view it was great to blood a lot of young players at this level. Yes they played in some rough weather at times but you never know what sort of weather you will get at world champs so it's great to be prepared."

The tournament was set up by Irish jewellery entrepreneur Pete Boyle at the international water sports park he developed in 2017. It was the venue of an old reservoir.

The complex includes five canoe polo courts, a cable park and glamping pods.