Scanning various headlines and relying on mainstream media isn't the best thing to do when following our Black Sticks. Both Aotearoa teams suffered defeat to Australia in the respective finals, but as y'all Free Man jokers will know, there's more to this Oceania Cup than specific results. Aotearoa Women for example have a bigger fish to fry with the upcoming World Hockey League Final in Auckland and with that in mind, as long as Mark Hager is on track with his preparations and can put some lessons into action from the Oceania Cup, no dramas.
Aotearoa Men on the other hand are in a funky phase with a crop of young/fringe players making the trip to Sydney and this is in stark contrast to Australia who are preparing for the World Hockey League Finals in India. Aotearoa won't be in India, hence they are building their depth and systems under coach Darren Smith and the two paths of Australia and Aotearoa are working out rather nicely. Australia need hockey and will now play a series against Aotearoa, followed by the International Festival of Hockey in Melbourne, while Aotearoa also need to continue their development and it's a luxury to do so against a firing Kookaburras team.
That's evident in some of the names that featured in Australia's Oceania Cup squad; Eddie Ockenden, Mathew Swann, Jacob Whetton, Tom Wickham, Aarn Zalewski, Trent Mitton, Mark Knowles, Jeremy Haward, Daniel Beale, Blake Govers. Australia had a bloody strong squad for the Oceania Cup and that will continue over the next few weeks.
Aotearoa on the other hand have brought in four more inexperienced players to get a taste of international hockey, against Australia. Dane Lett, George Enersen, Kim Kingstone and likely debutant Aidan Sarikaya link up with the Black Sticks, joining a squad where skipper Arun Panchia is the elder statesman at 28yrs and along with Marcus Child they are the only players with over 100 caps.
So you'd be wise to not rely too heavily on the headlines or specific results from Oceania Cup, or even the upcoming series against Australia. There's a bigger picture here that is more important and I can't stress enough how beneficial it is to have the Black Sticks building their depth against an Australian team who are preparing for World Hockey League Finals. The IFOH after the Aussie series where Australia and Aotearoa are joined by Japan and Pakistan will give us a better gauge of how the lads are tracking.
And with the ladies preparing for their own WHLF campaign, these are hectic times for kiwi hockey. We're a month away from the start of WHLF, so the next major point of intrigue is the squad selection from Mark Hager and you already know that we'll be all over this. Aoetearoa will be underdogs, which is a great place to be.
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