Without getting ahead of themselves, New Zealand probably expected to be facing Australia in tomorrow's Hawkes Bay Festival women's final in Hastings.

After all, the world's Nothree (Australia) and four-ranked nations were tipped to meet in the final, provided they played to that ranking.

However, Australia fluffed that enticing prospect by finishing second in their pool to Japan. That put them on course to face the Black Sticks in today's semifinal, the winner to play either Japan or China in the decider.

The last meeting between the teams was the Oceania Cup final in Stratford in November, the Aussies won by dint of a 2-1 penalty shootout, following a 1-1 draw in regulation time.


There's little between the teams. Each won one of the two clashes at the World League semifinal in Belgium last June-July, the difference being New Zealand won the pool match, Australia the knockout game. At the Oceania Cup, they draw in round robin play, with the Australians winning the big finale.

"Personally I always love playing Australia because you know it's going to be a tough battle, and we've got to match their intensity," experienced defender Emily Naylor said yesterday. "There is that real rivalry and it is something special because we are so even, and the rankings show that."

Naylor is New Zealand's most capped international with 268 caps. She can't remember how often she's faced Australia, but probably more than any other Black Sticks player.

She is back after taking a year out post-Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014. Naylor reckons her game is steadily getting back to the standard she'd like.

"In the first few games you feel a bit rusty, a bit off the pace.

"But in this tournament my performances have got a bit better each game, and while there's always room for improvement, areas I need to work on, I think I'm slotting back okay," she said.

Beat Australia today and New Zealand will be favourites to win the eight-nation title for the first time.

The men's Black Sticks have a major issue to resolve in the Azlan Shah tournament in Ipoh, Malaysia.

The eighth-ranked New Zealanders have drawn their first two games, 3-3 against the hosts, and 1-1 against Canada in a below par start to their defence of the title.

In those two games, New Zealand won 21 penalty corners, but scored from just two - one in each match.

But on two occasions against the Canadians, the ball was poorly trapped, squandering the opportunity for primary drag flickers Kane Russell or Nic Woods to get a shot off.

New Zealand play 10th-ranked Pakistan tonight in a key match if the Black Sticks are to get up to the sharp end of the points standings in the round robin event.

Malaysia lead the table on four points, with Australia, Pakistan and India on three, New Zealand on two, Canada one and Japan none. New Zealand play Japan in their fourth game tomorrow night.