If there's one thing about Aotearoa Black Sticks squads that has been a consistent trend over the past 18 months in both the men's and women's teams, it's depth. This year on the men's side we have seen new coach Darren Smith usher in a young wave of players, coinciding with many senior players either playing in Europe, battling injury or taking some time off. Smith has named his squad for the Oceania Cup and this is yet another example of Aotearoa's strong hockey foundations.
Squad: Arun Panchia (c), Marcus Child, Jared Panchia, Deveon Manchester, Cory Bennett, David Brydon, James Coughlan, Nick Elder, Daniel Harris, Richard Joyce, Sam Lane, Harry Miskimmin, Leo Mitai-Wells, George Muir, Hayden Phillips, Brad Read, Nick Ross, Mac Wilcox.
Daniel Harris is the new lad, while the likes of David Brydon, Nick Elder, Sam Lane, Harry Miskimmin, Leo Mitai-Wells, Brad Read and Mac Wilcox have emerged as part of that young wave of players after the Olympics. James Coughlan is a major inclusion after battling injury during 2017 and his North Harbour comrade Cory Bennett also slots in, liekly to be the top-dawg drag flicker.
Players who aren't in this squad via European commitments or injury: Simon Child, Blair Tarrant, Hugo Inglis, Blair Hilton, Stephen Jenness, Nick Haig, Shay Neal, Kane Russell, Rob Creffier, Nic Woods.
How about I try drop two different teams, of 11? An A and B squad:
Black Sticks A
D: Russell, Arun Panchia, Haig, Tarrant.
M: Woods, Marcus Child, Ross.
S: Inglis, Jenness, Jared Panchia.
Black Sticks B
D: Brydon, Bennett, Read, Miskimmin.
M: Coughlan, Muir, Phillips.
S: Neal, Hilton, Lane.
Even then, we're left with Creffier, Elder, Harris, Mitai-Wells and Wilcox. Oh and a certain Simon Child who would obviously waltz into any Black Sticks/World Team, which is only a sign of the simmering depth of kiwi hockey.
The senior players in this Black Sticks Men's squad for the Oceania Cup will have to roll out some exceptional performances to beat Australia. Papa New Guinea will also be there (as Samoa have previously) and while winning the Oceania Cup grants you automatic qualification for the World Cup, both Australia and Aotearoa have already sealed that, hence coach Smith can select a younger squad.
Games against Australia will be massive though and how the core group of the Panchia bros, Coughlan, Ross, Muir, Child and Phillips lead the Black Sticks will be of interest. They'll obviously need some assistance from the others and there's no better opportunity than Oceania Cup games against Australia for the younger/fringe players to make their case for further Black Sticks squads.
Three of those younger/fringe lads to watch out for are Miskimmin, Lane and Mitai-Wells. Miskimmin is a solid defender who resembles Tarrant with his strong passing and defensive nous, which is a niche that the Black Sticks need depth in. Lane and Mitai-Wells have formed striking groups this year, offering a bit of size and power up front. Lane has especially impressed since being given an opportunity and if he can be a force against Australia, he'll level-up as he has done with every opportunity thus far.
The Oceania Cup gets underway in a week or two, so we'll keep rolling out the hockey funk and be all over this when it begins.
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