Hard & Fast: Black Sticks Men 2016 Squad

 Lord Jenness, master of finesse, allow me to digress.

Lord Jenness, master of finesse, allow me to digress.

Ryan Archibald, Corey Bennett, Marcus Child, Simon Child, James Coughlan, Nick Haig, Blair Hilton, Hugo Inglis, Stephen Jenness, Devon Manchester, Shea McAleese, George Muir, Shay Neal, Dominic Newman, Arun Panchia, Jared Panchia, Kyle Pontifex, Nick Ross, Alex Shaw, Brad Shaw, Jacob Smith, Blair Tarrant, Nick Wilson, Nic Woods.

Black Sticks mens coach Colin Batch has named his 2016 squad, an important announcement given that the climax of 2016 will be the Rio Olympics.

It's the sort of squad the reinforces my excitement and hope for the Black Sticks men as they embark on their Olympic journey. Remember that before Christmas, this team wasn't even going to the Olympics, but looking at the players named, it's hard not to ponder the fact that this team could contend for an Olympic medal.

25 lads have been named, meaning that there will be a few that eventually miss out on Olympic selection. This does however allow coach Batch to focus his attention on the players named, allowing the squad to develop their own style of hockey and grow as a group ahead of a busy Olympic year. 

Interestingly, veterans Phil Burrows, Andy Hayward and Steve Edwards weren't named. Edwards and Hayward are near-certainties to go to the Olympics as Edwards a key midfielder fresh off an Indian Hockey League stint (with Simon Child and Devon Manchester) and Hayward is one of the best drag-flickers in the world. Burrows' future remains cloudy.

Other than those omissions, it's a fairly standard Black Sticks mens squad. There's fire power in Simon Child, Nick Wilson, Stephen Jenness, Hugo Inglis and Blair Hilton plus the silky touch of Ryan Archibald.

There's the workhorses of the midfield: James Coughlan, George Muir, Arun Panchia and Nick Ross.

There's a solid defensive unit that will offer plenty going forward as well: Kane Russell, Alex Shaw, Blair Tarrant, Nick Haig and Shea McAleese.

Plus there are youngsters who will be pushing hard for Olympic selection: Jared Panchia, Marcus Child, Corey Bennett and new face Dominic Newman.

This squad tells me that the Black Sticks mens side are nicely poised for a big year as it's a fairly strong squad, even with key players missing and there's going to be some hefty competition for spots leading into the Olympics.

March and April will be busy months for the Black Sticks as they face Malaysia and Korea in Tauranga and Auckland in March before the Sultan Azlan Shah cup in Malaysia in April.