The Sultan Azlan Shah Cup came to a close over the weekend and Aotearoa's Black Sticks finished in 4th after a 4-0 loss to India in the Bronze medal playoff. Prior to that, Aotearoa ground out a 1-0 over hosts Malaysia and then lost to eventual tournament winners Great Britain 3-2.
Not coming away with a medal is a bit stink, although what we were watching was a very young Black Sticks team (as has been the case for the men and women after Rio) and that had a major influence on the outcome. Skipper Arun Panchia and striker Stephen Jenness were key figures, but it's difficult to play at a high level in such a tournament with a younger group built around these two. Given that, this was a perfect step up from home series' earlier this year and the younger brigade continue to gain international experience against a wider range of opposition and styles.
Along with the constant threat offered by Jenness up front, Dominic Newmann was impressive and with a gang of players either not playing or playing in Europe at the moment, he could be someone who forces their way into a full strength squad. George Muir's return is also exciting, as a midfield of Muir, James Coughlan, Hayden Phillips, Blair Hilton and possible options like Simon Child, Arun Panchia, Marcus Child, Jared Panchia will form a strong foundation.
We're still putting the pieces together for this Black Sticks Men's team and not only that, but there's a new coach in Darren Smith with a different way of thinking. The result in Malaysia needs context around it and we should view it as a nice level-up for a younger group who are eager to impress, competing for spots in top-strength Black Sticks squad.
A Black Sticks squad that could look like this (17 geezers, one goalie with Hamish McGregor floating around):
Goalies: Devon Manchester.
Defenders: Arun Panchia, Blair Tarrant, Kane Russell, Nick Haig, Shea McAleese, Nic Woods.
Midfielders: James Coughlan, Blair Hilton, Hayden Phillips, George Muir, Marcus Child.
Strikers: Hugo Inglis, Stephen Jenness, Simon Child, Jared Panchia, Shay Neal.
Of that group, only Arun Panchia, Jenness and Muir were in Malaysia. So we got some depth folks.
Oh the funk...