Black Sticks enter final phase of Olympics prep

Last updated 10:29 22/06/2012

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Coach Shane McLeod hopes the New Zealand men's hockey team can take its Olympic Games preparation to the next level without the cloud of selection hanging over the players.

The Black Sticks tonight (8pm NZT) play the first of three tests against Australia in Cairns, with the second and third matches against the world champions tomorrow and Monday.

The 18-strong Kiwi team has been training in Cairns for the past week and is using the tests against Australia as part of their build up for the London Olympics, with the squad having been named last week.

''It is the first time that the team has been together without the distraction of selection,'' McLeod said.

''We know who will play in each position now, so this week we have been able to go into much more detail with each player about exactly what their role is and the style we are wanting to play.''

With Australia announcing their Olympic side just two days ago, McLeod is under no illusion that this series will be a tough contest with both teams likely to play a fast, physical game.

''They will test us and play at a pace that requires the guys to think and problem solve under pressure. Both are newly named teams that have a high work rate and have the ability to score goals often, so it should be a tightly fought series.''

McLeod said playing against their higher-ranked trans-Tasman rivals would give the Black Sticks another opportunity to identify what needs to be improved before they start their Olympic campaign on July 30.

Seventh ranked New Zealand does not meet Australia in pool play in London. They're in a pool which also consists of Germany, Netherlands, Korea, India and Belgium.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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