Twenty six Black Sticks, including eight of the women's side who created history by making the Olympic semifinals, will feature in the National Hockey League that starts on Saturday.

Ten Olympians have jetted back from London to make themselves available for their regions as the eight men's sides battle for the Challenge Shield and the eight women's teams for the K Cup.

Women's defending champions Auckland look the strongest side heading into this year's competition.

The Aucklander's have notched up some convincing warm-up victories and they'll be bolstered by the return of Olympic stars Katie Glynn and Sam Harrison.


With former Black Sticks Jan Rowsell and Honor Carter leading the side and ex-Hockeyroo Kate Hollywood, they are certainly one of the favourites on paper.

The home side's greatest challenge is likely to come from neighbours Midlands who will welcome returning Olympians Cat Finlayson, Sam Charlton and drag flick exponent Clarissa Eshuis alongside Black Sticks goalkeeper Sally Rutherford.

North Harbour will also give the Aucklander's a run for their money with in-form Olympic goalkeeper Bianca Russell joining fellow Black Sticks Petrea Webster and Rhiannon Dennison in the Harbour side.

Meanwhile, the men's competition looks a lot less clear cut with Auckland, who shared the title with Central last year after the final was called off due to snow, again the top contender.

Keen to claim the title outright this year, Auckland have bolstered their squad with the inclusion of Australian star Brent Livermore, who will join Black Sticks Marcus Child and Arun Panchia.

Midlands, with Olympians Blair Hopping and Scott Deavin (Australia), will keep the Aucklander's honest as will a young North Harbour side featuring many of the team that won this year's under-21 national title.

The NHL starts with a double-header weekend at eight different venues from Whangarei to Dunedin on Saturday and Sunday.

The league finishes with rounds three to seven, semi-finals and finals at Auckland's Lloyd Elsmore Hockey Stadium from August 25 to September 2.