Today signals the start of the Oceania Cup hockey tournament in Stratford, Taranaki. Both the Black Sticks men and women will be eyeing up victory here, but it is the men who have the most riding on this tournament with a spot in the Rio Olympics up for grabs. After losing to Canada in an agonising penalty shootout earlier in the year, the Black Sticks men have known that they would need to beat Australia on Sunday to ensure that they don't do what can only be considered unthinkable and not make the cut for the Olympics.
The tournament includes the kiwis, Australia, Samoa and Fiji on the men's side and Samoa, New Zealand, Australia and an Invitational XI from New Zealand who will play a game against Samoa. The kiwi men will face Australia tomorrow in a little taste-tester before they will likely play against them in the final on Sunday while the ladies play Australia on Saturday and then Sunday's final.
Australia's men are and have been one of the top hockey teams in the world. Hockey doesn't enjoy the biggest profile in Aotearoa and Australia but the Aussies have set up shop at the top of world hockey for as long as I can remember, which makes Black Sticks' coach Colin Batch's selections for this all-important tournament rather strange. Instead of turning to players who have done the job at the international level, Batch has opted to hand a debut to Midlands' striker Leo Mitai-Wells while persisting with what seems to be his grand plan of playing midfielders like James Coughlin and Steven Edwards as strikers.
This is a crucial tournament for the Black Sticks men not just because there is a place in the Olympics up for grabs - which is the peak of hockey for many players - but also because funding for sports like hockey depends on making big tournaments like the Olympics and doing well at them. There is no reason why the Blacks Sticks lads shouldn't be in the Olympics as I see this as one of the strongest Black Sticks groups that I have seen and our depth has been/is on full display even in this tournament.
Mark Hager has done a great job with the Black Sticks ladies, but how would we judge his Aussie comrade Batch if he fails to take this Black Sticks mens team to the Olympics. I'd see that as a major disappointment and it would be time for someone new.
The other funky thing about this Oceania Cup is the presence of Samoa and Fiji. Understandably, both Samoa and Fiji will struggle to match the kiwis and Aussies and you will see headlines about some big wins with scorelines heading up to the 20-0 region. This is all about the good vibes though and as the big dawgs of the South Pacific, we and Australia (in all sports, not just hockey) need to offer opportunities and support our brothers and sisters who don't have the same facilities and resources that we do.
If I can leave you with two key thoughts about this upcoming Oceania Cup they would be
- It would be a travesty for the Black Sticks men not to qualify for Rio, which is highly possible.
- Don't laugh at the massive scorelines/thrashings, just smile and put yourself in the position of a Samoan hockey player who gets to play for their country against some of the best in the world. That's pretty cool.
Alright, a few quick shots...
Are we still talking about this Craig Joubert fellow? Shit, who cares. Referees make mistakes and that's why we love sport as it offers huge drama (which sells tickets and draws in crowds) so fuck it. Remember when Andrew and David Fifita abused that ref at a kids rugby league game a few months ago in Sydney? We all hated this because it highlighted how much abuse refs cop and raised the question of why would anyone want to be a ref? So here we are, ripping into another ref ... seriously, why would you want to be a ref if you don't get praised and get abused?
There was another bloke involved in that Fifita vs ref saga - Mathew Lodge, who has just had his contract ripped up by the Wests Tigers after he was arrested for assault or something in America. The same Mathew Lodge who wrote 'c*#t' on his wrist strapping in an Under 20s Origin game, yup, good one.
No one is really talking about the Springboks and it's scary.
I'm highly conflicted about this Constellation Cup netball thingy between the Silver Ferns and Australia. I'm finding it hard to get excited about this because the World Cup wasn't too long ago and just don't really see the point of playing another series when they could just be chllin' like a villain before the ANZ Championship like Maria Tutaia is. Neither Australia or the Ferns have done anything since the World Cup, but here they are playing each other again and while the Ferns players can pump up the 'playing for Wai' narrative, as a fan it is incredibly hard to get into this series.
Oh and if the Ferns and Australia aren't playing their best respective teams, then why should I care?
I did watch last night's game though and the Silver Ferns aren't very good, compared to Australia at least. What fucked me up though was how happy and chirpy everyone was after the game, while I was miserable as it hit home that the Ferns just aren't as good as Australia. Sure, the Ferns might bounce back and win a few games or the series but at the moment it feels like kiwi netball is up shit's creek.
And don't get me started on our netball commentators. Us kiwis love to have a whinge about bias commentators (who are usually Australian) yet we have to listen to these cheerleaders.
Combine the cheerleading commentary with all those smiling faces after yet another loss and everything's pretty weird.
David Smith has stood down from his spot atop the NRL perch and it's all a bit messy. Smith negotiated one half of a new broadcast deal and has left the NRL to try and rekindle some sort of relationship with Rupert Murdoch who is the top dawg of Fox Sport ... who was brushed aside as Smith opted instead to seal a free-TV deal with Channel 9.
Murdoch wasn't happy about this and while the NRL celebrated a pretty hefty deal with Channel 9, they have yet to make any major moves with Fox or another digital broadcaster. Stay tuned here because who ever comes in to run the NRL will be tasked with nailing the second half of the broadcasting deal which is hugely important as it's 2015 and things are digital ya know?
Chris Cairns, go away. Leave me alone. Piss off.