Head coach Colin Batch has made it clear that he is searching for the next group of Black Sticks that can make up his side for the 2016 Olympic Games.
For the upcoming Champions Trophy to be held in Melbourne in December, Batch has opted to select eight new players including debutants Jacob Smith (Capital), Alex Shaw (Auckland) and goalkeeper Devon Manchester (Auckland). Goalkeeper Hamish McGregor (Southern), who only has one international test cap, has also made the side.
“There are a number of players who I believe need a shot – some just missed out on Olympic selection, others are younger players who I think have real talent and something to offer this side going forward,” says Batch, who was head coach for Belgium at the London Olympics and previously assistant coach of Australia.
“There will be opportunities next year for other athletes to prove themselves. We will obviously continue to search and develop talent so we have players really pushing and competing for national selection,” says Batch.
Dean Couzins has been reappointed as captain for the Champions Trophy, and Batch says a leadership team will be appointed before the side departs on the 25 November.
The team named for this year’s Champions Trophy includes eight new players from the sixteen who represented New Zealand at the London Olympics – Blair Tarrant, Jacob Smith, Hamish McGregor, Devon Manchester, Alex Shaw, James Coughlan, Arun Panchia and Matt L’Huillier.
There will be experienced players on hand with eleven in the side having played at the 2011 Owen G Glenn Champions Trophy and five of those having over 150 international test caps.
With a number of players competing in the European club season, and only returning to New Zealand on the 21 November, there will be just a short time spent together as a team before they depart.
“Ideally we would have had a longer build-up, but because of the Olympics and the timing of the Champions Trophy with the European season, we will spend the week we have focussing on set pieces and team cohesion,” says Batch.
The week after the team returns from Melbourne, the 2013 National Squad of 25 players will be announced alongside a Development Squad of 10 players.
Ranked sixth, the Black Sticks will have to improve on their Olympic performance to have a chance of finishing in the top five at this tournament and qualifying for the next Champions Trophy in 2014.
Starting on the 1 December, they will take on Olympic gold medallists Germany, England (ranked fourth), and India (ranked 11th) in their pool, before progressing to the qualification rounds. Australia, Netherlands, Belgium and Pakistan are in Pool B. The finals are on the 9 December.
Last year, the Owen G Glenn Champions Trophy was held in Auckland and the Black Sticks placed fourth missing out on the bronze medal to the Netherlands – but equalling their best ever result at a Champions Trophy.