Wellington striker Niniwa Roberts has been recalled to the Black Sticks team to contest the Oceania Cup in September, including a series of warm up matches in Hong Kong at the end of August.
Roberts, (31) who has played 111 games for New Zealand, has been training strongly in Wellington, since giving birth to daughter Isabella seven months ago.
National Coach Kevin Towns has included the specialist striker after deciding he needs to spread the net wider to resolve difficulties the side has had meshing the side’s attackers and midfield.
“Niniwa is a very experienced striker who could offer balance and the ability to link with the midfield, an element missing at AtaHolding Champions Challenge” he says.
“Her game may well blend nicely with the younger players. She will give our midfield a target on the field, for other strikers to play off her,” he says. “Niniwa will also boost our penalty corner striking and runs good defensive lines.”
Roberts last played for the Black Sticks in the World Cup Qualifying Tournament in Rome in April 2006, after she was called in to cover injury to Kayla Sharland.
Towns has opted for consistency in his selection. Roberts is the only addition to the side that competed in the Champions Challenge in Azerbaijan in June.
“I am still learning about the players and believe long term consistency and building a core is important,” he says. “It would also be hard to separate players on the basis of performance at the Champions Challenge last month. Overall, the team did not play well.”
The only casualty is young defender Alana Millington who has missed out with the inclusion of an extra striker.
Towns says the non-selection is not a reflection on Millington’s performance in Azerbaijan. “She is still in the developmental phase of her game and I am confident she is in a good environment back home and will continue to develop during the National Hockey League,” he says.
The other selection of note is the return of play-making midfielder Kayla Sharland to full fitness. Sharland traveled with the Black Sticks to Azerbaijan and during the South Island -based Australian series in May, but only played a few on-field minutes as she recuperated a knee injury.
The team departs on Tuesday 21 August. The Black Sticks will play Korea on 28 August, China on 29 August and India on 31 August. All games will be played in Kowloon, Hong Kong.
Hong Kong is expected to simulate conditions likely to be encountered at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Towns will use the opportunity to trial hydration and cooling strategies including ice jackets.
The Oceania Cup will be played in Buderim, on the Sunshine Coast of Australia, from 11-16 September.
Black Sticks team for Hong Kong Series and Oceania Cup:
Krystal Forgesson, Kim Noakes, Frances Kreft, Honor Dillon, Jo Galletly, Meredith Orr, Kate Saunders, Emily Naylor, Caryn Paewai, Anita Wawatai, Kayla Sharland, Charlotte Harrison, Kimberly Green, Lizzy Igasan, Jaimee Claxton, Kate Mahon, Beth Jurgeleit, Niniwa Roberts.
Source: Hockey New Zealand
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