New Zealand men’s hockey coach Kevin Towns has included one new cap and three recently introduced players in his team to contest the Sultan Azlan Shah tournament in Malaysia next month, continuing his measured development policy.
Towns is building towards establishing stability for the Oceania World Cup Qualifier against Australia in November followed by the Commonwealth Games in March.
The new face in the Pelorus Trust New Zealand side is Canterbury defender Shea McAleese (20), who has been playing for Canberra in the Australian Hockey League.
McAleese played in the strong AHL rather than make himself available for last month’s New Zealand series against Malaysia after the New Zealand men’s team management decided it would be more beneficial for him to play in Australia.
The three players to regain selection after debuting against Malaysia are Auckland striker Hamish Baron (18), Waikato defender Richard Petherick (19) and North Harbour midfielder Shaun Barnett (21).
Three experienced players were unavailable for selection due to work commitments. They are Auckland defender Dion Gosling, and midfielders Wayne McIndoe (Auckland) and Mitesh Patel (Wellington).
The other notable inclusion is that influential centre midfielder Simon Towns, who has been named as captain, with Ryan Archibald vice captain.
Towns, who is based in London, has made himself available through to the World Cup in Germany, September 2006. He will return to live in New Zealand next February.
The confirmation is good news for Towns as it allows him to gradually phase in potential new candidates for the important centre midfield position as he builds his side towards Beijing.
He will use the Sultan Azlan Shah tournament and the subsequent European tour in July to act as a bench mark and to focus on certain areas of the field.
Towns’ biggest focus will be on the halves and midfield. Candidates being considered for the roles include Shaun Barnett, who acquitted himself well against Malaysia; James Nation, (Wellington) - a more experienced option with Olympic experience; North Harbour’s Bryce Collins who was a standout for North Harbour in the 2004 Lion Foundation New Zealand Hockey League and McAleese.
On defence, Towns says that Dion Gosling’s unavailability could see the side exposed at the back, but it allows him to introduce more players to tournament conditions.
Auckland defender Dean Couzins who has now amassed 68 caps, will be asked to step up from substitute fullback to a more senior role. Couzins has been playing in Holland.
Richard Petherick will be exposed to tournament conditions and Brad Shaw will have the opportunity of more turf time. Shaw debuted for New Zealand at the Champions Trophy last year but has had limited playing time.
Up front, Baron is given the opportunity to expand his experience, alongside experienced campaigners such as Phillip Burrows and Bevan Hari.
Towns said the selections reflected a measured approach to the side’s longer term goals.
“The team has a good balance of youth and experience. Sultan Azlan Shah represents a chance to measure ourselves in a tournament situation against some of the best teams in the world as well as to expand our player base,” he said.
The Sultan Azlan Shah Cup will be played in Malaysia from 26 May – 5 June, contested by Australia (ranked 2nd in the world), Pakistan (4), India (5), Korea (7), New Zealand (8) Malaysia (11) and South Africa (12).
New Zealand won a bronze medal at the last Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in 2003.
Pelorus Trust NZ Men’s Team - Sultan Azlan Shah Cup
Ryan Archibald, Hamish Baron, Gareth Brooks, Dean Couzins, Simon Towns, Bevan Hari, Paul Woolford, (Auckland); Shea McAleese, Brad Shaw(Canterbury); Shaun Barnett, Bryce Collins, Blair Hopping, David Kosoof, Darren Smith (North Harbour); Richard Petherick (Waikato); Phillip Burrows, James Nation, Kyle Pontifex (Wellington)
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