Hager pushes Tasman ties for Black Sticks

MARK HAGER: "I think both countries would love it [a Kiwi team in the Australian league] but both countries are also aware that it needs to be viable."
MARK HAGER: "I think both countries would love it [a Kiwi team in the Australian league] but both countries are also aware that it needs to be viable."

Black Sticks coach Mark Hager wants his women playing in the Australian national hockey league.

Just minutes after his side lost the Olympic Games bronze medal match 3-1 to Great Britain, Hager renewed his bid to have provincial sides regularly playing across the Tasman so they are exposed to stiffer competition.

“I've been throwing out an idea for the last three years that we should be in the Australian hockey league but I get laughed at, at times, with people saying it won't happen,” Hager said.

“We should have two or three teams in the national hockey league in Australia. We are one of the rare sports in New Zealand that is not involved in Australia.

“We have got the players on the women's side and the men's side to put three quality teams in but, then again it comes down to cost.”

Hager fears European teams are getting a jump on New Zealand and Australia because of their stronger competition structure.

European sides dominated the Olympic tournament, with the Netherlands winning the women's competition and Great Britain taking bronze while the Dutch and Germans contested the men's final.

“If we don't get together, Australia and New Zealand and even Asia, we are going to fall behind Europe,” Hager said.

“Europe has a fantastic club competition and a fantastic European league and we don't have that. Unfortunately for us we don't have the finances of Australia, who go to Europe three times a year. We are lucky if we can come over here once in two years."

Several of the Black Sticks men and some of the women pick up professional contracts in the Netherlands but Hager is not a big fan of his players heading overseas.

“My feeling is when players go overseas they have a good time and come back unfit,” Hager said.

“They are there for the clubs to use. If they break down, the clubs can buy another foreign player, but I can't buy another Kayla Sharland. If Kayla Sharland breaks down on me then I have to go and develop another young one.”

The Black Sticks were down on themselves yesterday after turning in their worst performance of their plucky campaign.

The less hardened players were simply unable to lift themselves after the heart-breaking penalty shootout loss to the Netherlands.

After initially being very hard on his players, Hager changed his tune a little. “I am very proud of this group, they achieved fantastically well at this tournament,” he said. “But a lot of our players need to look within themselves to say ‘I've got to become a better hockey player' otherwise we won't be challenging for the future.”

He hopes the squad stick together but seems resigned to losing Sharland and Emily Naylor, in the short term at least. “I'm hopeful they will play on, but they need a break,” Hager said.

Fairfax Media