With the 2008 Beijing Olympics just around the corner, the five nations tournament in South Africa starting this weekend is a vital stepping stone Australian preparation in the lead up to defend their Olympic gold medal.
Keen to find out who has what it takes to once again take the Kookaburras to Olympic glory, coach Barry Dancer has given a strong indication that his Olympic team could include several fresh faces, with several youngsters given a chance to shine during the 5 Nation Tournament.
Dancer said the young team was selected to serve a dual purpose. Firstly, to create an opportunity for many of the squads young players to step up and press for Olympic selection. Secondly, to allow some of the more experienced players to prepare physically for the upcoming Australian Hockey League in February prior to the Olympic squad selection process.
"Certainly the focus of this team's selection was to allow a broader group of players the opportunity to put their hand up for Olympic selection by performing at this tournament," said Dancer.
"At this stage we are not ruling out anyone for our Olympic squad regardless of age and experience. Everyone in this team is a chance to be selected so it will be exciting to see who steps up and really goes above and beyond to earn their spot."
Dancer said the omission of some senior players from the team, including Jamie Dwyer, Brent Livermore, Bevan George and Matthew Wells will create a good opportunity for others to step up into a leadership role.
“With a few senior players missing there will obviously be a bit more responsibility placed on the likes of Mark Knowles, Andrew Smith and Luke Doerner. These guys have been in the system for a number of years now so the opportunity to lead from the front will be a good learning curve for them.”
Overall three debutants have been included in the team in Chris Ciriello, Daniel Hotchkis and Simon Orchard, with Dancer claiming all three are chances to be selected in the Olympic squad.
"Each of our three debutants have emerged through various AIS tours and through the AHL over the last few years and they all thoroughly deserve this opportunity. They are all long term prospects but a good performance at this tournament followed by more good hockey at the AHL will make them just as likely to be selected in the Olympic squad as anyone else."
The Kookaburras will be given an opportunity to extract some revenge from their recent 2007 Champions Trophy final loss against
The remainder of the tournament looks equally exciting for the Kookaburras as they will put their skills to the test against genuine Olympic gold medal threats in the
Simon Orchard, Daniel Hotchkis, Chris Ciriello, Rob Hammond, Mark Knowles, Russell Ford, Edward Ockenden, David Guest, Luke Doerner, Grant Schubert, Josh Hawes, Andrew Smith, Eli Matheson, Nathan Burgers, Daniel McPherson, Kiel Brown, Fergus Kavanagh, Desmond Abbott.
Match Schedule (all times are local)
Sunday 20 January
Monday 21 January
Tuesday 22 January
Wednesday 23 January
Thursday 24 January
Saturday 26 January
Sunday 27 January
16:00 Bronze medal playoff
18:30 Gold medal playoff
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