Hockey New Zealand wants to control its destiny in 2024.
With the Paris Olympics qualifiers - and ideally the main event - on the horizon, HNZ want complete influence over what their build-up looks like.
It comes as the Black Sticks women pulled out of the next Hockey Pro League in July, despite qualifying for the fifth season of the elite international competition.
Five months following that decision, the team is confident it’ll work in their favour.
The Herald understands that call means the Black Sticks will have more opportunities to play at home.
Had the team proceeded with the Pro League, it was unlikely they would get to host games on New Zealand soil next year. HNZ also said the hefty costs that come with partaking in the league were a factor.
Co-captain Olivia Merry said withdrawing from the series has presented opportunities like their upcoming tests this month in North Carolina against the United States.
“We probably haven’t had [that opportunity] in the past,” said Merry.
Reportedly, the Black Sticks are set to host games within the first quarter of next year, after their Olympic qualifiers in India in January.
“We don’t know what next year will hold for us, [and] a few home test series and being able to put our brand of hockey out there to the New Zealand public is always something really cool,” said Merry.
Following the success of the 2022 Women’s Rugby World Cup and this year’s Fifa Women’s World Cup, Merry recognises there’s no better time to model her code than now.
“We’ve seen how sports in New Zealand has moved in the last probably 18 months, especially women’s sport.
“So it’s pretty exciting that hopefully, we get to play some test matches within New Zealand so we can get those crowds along and build the reputation of hockey,” said Merry.
Black Sticks women’s coach Phil Burrows admitted there was some initial upset around the decision to withdraw.
“It was a bit disappointing for the girls, but it’s just one of those things that we just have to move on from.”
Burrows says he had no issues with it and is confident the alternative programme they’ve got in place for before and after Olympic qualification is strong.
The Black Sticks will meet the US in two tests this Sunday before meeting the world 15th-ranked team again a month later at the Olympic qualifiers, which coach Burrows said is “a bit niggly”.
With Italy and tournament host India being the other two teams in New Zealand’s pool, Burrows expects it to be a tough task.
The former Kiwi men’s player said: “I’ve been involved in a lot of qualifiers myself, and they seem to change every single time the Olympics come around.”
How the new qualification format works this time is the top two teams in the two pools of four will advance to the semifinals. The winner of the semifinals earns Olympic qualification, and the winner of the bronze medal also secures a spot.
“We’re going to play teams that are ranked around where we’re ranked,” said Burrows.
“We’ll be ranked third at that tournament, and if you look at it like that, we will be playing the third and fourth playoff on the final day for a spot, which we don’t want.”
Burrows said the goal is to be in that final and qualify for the Olympics.
Bonnie Jansen is a multimedia journalist in the NZME Sports team. She’s a keen footballer, has worked with the Alternative Commentary Collective and was part of the Te Rito cadetship scheme before becoming a fulltime journalist.