The Black Sticks Men have a new coach in Darren Smith and they'll have a fresh look about them when they take on Pakistan in just over a week. Smith has dropped his first Black Sticks squad that features new lads Mac Wilcox (Central), Jonty Keaney (Midlands), Cam Hayde (Canterbury) and Nick Elder (Southern).
Cory Bennett, David Brydon, James Coughlin, Rob Creffier, Nick Elder, George Enersen, Nick Haig, Cam Hayde, Stephen Jenness, Richard Joyce, Jonty Keaney, Kim Kingstone, Sam Lane, Devon Manchester, Leo Mitai-Wells, Harry Miskimmin, Dominic Newman, Arun Panchia, Nick Ross, Alex Shaw, Mac Wilcox.
Not only has Smith called up those four, he has also leaned towards younger players with the experienced core of the national squad either playing in Europe or battling injury. Nick Haig, Stephen Jenness and Arun Panchia will lead the team with James Coughlin and Devon Manchester also key squad members.
The defensive group of this squad will be interesting to watch as they battle for openings moving forward. Alex Shaw is back in the mix and along with Cory Bennett, they will be looking to fight off the challenge from youngins' David Brydon and Harry Miskimmin. Blair Tarrant, Kane Russell and Shea McAleese aren't in this squad but will likely slot into any top-strength Black Sticks squad so this is a great oppportunity for a defender or two to demand further selection.
It's logical to give a range of players opportunities to impress with a new coach starting his Black Sticks journey just as the Olympic cycle re-starts. Depth is essential and we are seeing in both the men's and women's programs plenty of players used, however another point of interest will Smith's influence on the more established Black Sticks, especially in the midfield. Panchia and Haig will have key roles in the midfield along with James Coughlin and the likes Rob Creffier and Nick Ross should thrive as work-horses.
Black Sticks Women's coach Mark Hager has added five players to his national squad; Amy Robinson (Midlands), Tessa Jopp (Southern), Steph Dickins (North Harbour), Kim Tanner (Midlands) and Jenny Storey (Canterbury). That's for the general national squad though, so we'll have to wait and see who is selected to face USA in a few weeks.
Enjoy the funk...