Black Sticks named for Olympics warmup

Last updated 12:16 09/05/2012
STUFF.CO.NZ

Although London Olympics 2012 is the ultimate goal for the Black Sticks, a testing tournament in Malaysia is their first port of call. Nicola Abercrombie reports.

Ben Collier
Getty Images
BEN COLLIER: The midfielder is one of four Black Sticks added to the squad for the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup who wasn't involved in their Champions Trophy campaign.

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Four changes have been made to the men's Black Sticks squad for this month's Sultan Azlan Shah Cup.

Two of the switches from the outfit which finished fourth at the recent Champions Trophy in Auckland have been forced upon coach Shane McLeod, with first-choice players Blair Hopping and Steve Edwards both out.

Key defender Hopping was not considered for selection due to the birth of his son while experienced midfielder Edwards is recovering from a groin injury.

Coming into the fray are Nick Haig, Arun Panchia, Richard Petherick and Ben Collier, and 371 caps between them, all now have golden opportunities to stake their claim in McLeod's plans for the 2012 Olympic Games, which begin in 79 days.

Beginning on May 24 the Azlan Shah Cup will be played in Ipoh, Malaysia and represents the Black Sticks' last tournament before the Olympic team is named in mid-June.

Other teams competing are Olympic hosts Great Britain, Pakistan, Korea, Argentina and India as well as host nation Malaysia, who are the only team not to have qualified for this year's Olympics.

And with two of those sides also in the Black Sticks' Olympic pool, captain Dean Couzins says the tournament is a crucial part of their preparation for the London Games.

"This will be a great quality tournament for us and offers an opportunity to test ourselves against teams we'll be playing against in London," Couzins said.

"Korea and India are both in our pool at the Olympics, so we are looking forward to playing them."

The Black Sticks leave for Malaysia next Thursday 17 May, playing practice matches against Great Britain and Malaysia prior to the tournament starting.

The side then returns to Auckland where the Olympic team will be announced the week commencing 11 June. They then go to Cairns for a three test series against Australia from 17-26 June, before leaving for Europe in the first week of July where they will play against Belgium and Holland.

Black Sticks men's team for Sultan Azlan Shah Cup:

Goalkeeper: Kyle Pontifex.

Defenders: Nick Haig, Andy Hayward, Dean Couzins (capt), Brad Shaw, Blair Tarrant, Arun Panchia, Matt L'Huillier, Richard Petherick.

Midfielders: Blair Hilton, Ryan Archibald, Phil Burrows, Shea McAleese, Ben Collier.

Strikers: Simon Child, Stephen Jenness, Hugo Inglis, Nick Wilson.

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