The Vantage Black Sticks Men have named a strong side for their test series against Japan which starts on October 10 in Stratford.
Steve Edwards returns to the side after being an integral part of the North Harbour side that won the 2019 Ford NHL. Edwards hasn't featured for the Vantage Black Sticks Men since the Oceania Cup in 2015. He will bring a wealth of experience to the side having been capped 207 times and been to two Olympic Games.
Former Kookaburras Goalkeeper Leon Hayward has been included in the side. Hayward last played for the Kookaburras in 2015 and has made himself eligible for the Black Sticks going forward. Leon is the older brother of current Kookaburras drag flicker Jeremy Hayward.
Shea McAleese will bring up his 300th cap for the Vantage Black Sticks Men in match two of this series. McAleese will join Phil Burrows (343), Dean Couzins (318) and Ryan Archibald (327) as the only other players who have managed to play 300 matches for the New Zealand hockey team.
The New Zealand side features seven players who have over 200 caps for the Vantage Black Sticks Men. Darren Smith will be turning to this experience as his side builds towards the Tokyo 2020 qualifying tournament at the start of November.
Vantage Black Sticks Men's Coach Darren Smith said what his side is wanting to see this series.
"We get nine days together at the venue of the Olympic Qualification to prepare including getting familiar with the environment and turf. This includes four high-quality matches to test our systems both on and off the pitch to finalise our planning for the important fixtures that follow this series."
The Black Sticks have been able to bring in plenty of experience for the series.
"Steve Edwards is a two-time Olympian who has been in good form for North Harbour in the recently completed NHL. He is a man of high skill and has the ability to unlock the opposition defence. It is great to have Steve back with us for the first time since 2015."
"Leon Hayward was very solid in goal for Auckland for their NHL campaign. He is quick, mobile and we wanted to take this opportunity to see him in our environment both in training and against Japan."
"We also welcome back Brad Read and Dylan Thomas after strong NHL performances. Brad has recovered from hip surgery having last played against Canada in 2018 and Dylan returns for the first time since Pro League."
Darren Smith commented on the challenge that the Japanese team will bring.
"Each time we get the chance to play the Japanese team they get better. Quick, skilful and full of energy we have had some great matches against them over the last 18 months including a game in Tokyo last month where we nicked it in the last seconds."
"It is an ideal build-up to the Olympic Qualifier with a quality opponent playing us at the same venue where we will be a few weeks later against Korea."
Vantage Black Sticks Men's Squad vs Japan - Stratford
Blair Tarrant ©
Thursday 10th October: 6:30pm vs Japan
Saturday 12th October: 2:00pm vs Japan
Monday 14th October: 6:30pm vs Japan
Tuesday 15th October: 6:30pm vs Japan