The Black Sticks men and women start a massive six months of international competition today in the new FIH Pro League.

The global tournament will host 16 matches in a double round-robin before a top-four finals clash in the Netherlands at the end of June.

Both the eighth-ranked men's and sixth-ranked women's national sides will be in action against the formidable Netherlands at North Harbour this afternoon.

Black Sticks men's head coach Darren Smith admitted the busy past few months had left limited time to prepare his team but he was looking forward to a challenging match.


"It has been quick. We got back from the World Cup in December, only a few weeks ago, and you have to give the guys a rest," Smith told the Herald on Sunday.

"We had two weeks of hard work and then got ready to play the Dutch, so the preparation has been quick and not ideal.

"It's a fantastic Dutch team who have a lot of quality and we're looking forward to playing them.

"We'll try to get into them a bit physically and see if we can make the Dutch as uncomfortable as we can. It'll be an interesting game."

Black Sticks Women's acting head coach Sean Dancer. Photo / Getty
Black Sticks Women's acting head coach Sean Dancer. Photo / Getty

It's not been entirely smooth sailing for the Black Sticks women either, with former coach Mark Hager's departure to Britain this month.

With New Zealand Hockey still on the hunt for a replacement, Hager's assistant coach Sean Dancer has taken over the Commonwealth Games gold medal-winning side as acting head coach.

Describing the lead-up to this weekend as anything but easy, Dancer was realistic in his approach against the world No1 but assured their eyes were fixed on making the Pro League final later this year and earning a spot at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

"It has certainly been a tough period for us," Dancer said. "Any time a team loses a world-class coach is going to be a bit of a difficult period. I'm just trying to keep things really simple and so far the girls have responded well to that and I just hope we play a good, solid game.

Sam Charlton of the Black Sticks Women. Photo / Photosport
Sam Charlton of the Black Sticks Women. Photo / Photosport

"With everything that's been going on and the new competition, also knowing that we're playing the world No1, we're just going to focus on ourselves and I'm just trying to keep things simple and then concentrate on the basics of our game.

"Our game is working hard, we're a hard-working team, attacking, and then hopefully people get to see us doing that well."

Smith has named an experienced side led by Blair Tarrant for the opening match against the world No3 ranked Netherlands. New Zealand's 18-man squad includes four players with more than 200 caps and another five with more than 100.

Dancer has also selected a squad with plenty of experience, although teenage striker Olivia Shannon is poised to make her senior international debut.

The Black Sticks men and women will take on Belgium next week. The sides will then travel between Christchurch and Auckland to host the remaining nations before heading overseas in March.