Welcome back lads; that's the message to a clutch of leading players back in the New Zealand men's hockey team for the world league semifinals in Johannesburg next month.

The group of seven players have finished their stints with European clubs and will significantly enhance the quality in the world No 8 Black Sticks for the tournament, which starts on July 8.

Experienced Shea McAleese, Blair Tarrant, Hugo Inglis, Nic Woods, Jacob Smith, Marcus Child and Jared Panchia are returning to the national team for the first time this year.

In addition, promising midfielder Hayden Phillips is back after an ankle injury, having been missing since the Rio Olympics, while seasoned defender Nick Haig returns after breaking a bone in a foot against Pakistan earlier this year.


"There were some tough calls and some extremely good players missed out, but that's a great problem to have as it shows there is some depth within the squad,'' national coach Darren Smith said today.

''We are looking forward to the challenge. It will be a high pressure environment and we know that we will need to be at our peak to get the results needed.''

To that end, New Zealand are travelling to South Africa via Belgium. It may sound an odd route but the preferred option, via Perth and a handful of games against world No 2 Australia, fell through.

Plus Brussels, is hosting the women's league semifinal, which the New Zealand squad will be attending, around the same time.

The Belgians are world No 5, and were Rio Olympic silver medallists. The country is in the same time zone as Johannesburg, so there are pluses. New Zealand will have three matches against Belgium, which will certainly help.

Smith wanted tough preparation and he'll get it there. They have several days in Johannesburg to top off the lead-in into the tournament.

The squad are just back from eight days training at the Gold Coast, using the Commonwealth Games venue for next year. They'll have a fortnight together in Auckland before departing on June 23.

Smith liked what he saw from the younger players who went to the Azlan Shah tournament in Malaysia in April.

''We were keen to see how the young guys would match up against the boys returning from Europe and put them through some real competition,'' Smith said.

''We were really happy. Getting some of the guys back from Europe was really good, with their experience and some of them for the first time since Rio. It's nice to see them back in the squad.''

Among those ruled out of the trip are regular captain, world class striker Simon Child, who is sidelined by a lingering leg injury, Blair Hilton and James Coughlan, who was unavailable.

The Black Sticks will play Australia, Spain, Japan and France in pool A, starting with the improving French on July 9. Pool B comprises Belgium, Rio bronze medallists Germany, reigning African champions South Africa, Ireland and Egypt.

Ten teams are also taking part in the other semifinal tournament in London. Results over both tournaments will determine the teams to advance to December's world league final, to be held in Bhubaneswar, India.

The top 10 overall get qualification for the World Cup late next year, and also in the Indian city.

New Zealand men's squad for the world league semifinal in Johannesburg, starting July 9:
Devon Manchester, Arun Panchia, Jared Panchia, Marcus Child (Auckland), Richard Joyce, George Muir (North Harbour), David Brydon, Sam Lane, Nick Haig (Canterbury), Hugo Inglis, Nick Ross, Kane Russell, Blair Tarrant (Southern), Jacob Smith, Stephen Jenness (Capital), Shea McAleese, Hayden Phillips (Central), Nic Woods (Midlands).