'Divided by water, united by hockey' runs the strap-line for the 2017 Oceania Cup and, with eight nations descending upon Sydney for this two-tier hockey event, the meaning is clear.
Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea will be contesting the Oceania Cup from 11-15 October at Sydney's Olympic Park Hockey Centre in Australia, with the winner being crowned continental champions and securing one of the last tickets to the 2018 Hockey World Cups. An Intercontinental Hockey5s event will also run alongside this competition, creating additional excitement as a number of developing hockey nations gather to compete in this short-sided tournament.
The Oceania Cup is an event that has traditionally seen the final contested by the two Oceania giants, Australia and New Zealand, but it is also an event that allows the developing nations of Oceania to pit their skills against two world class opponents.
This edition will see Papua New Guinea men and women taking part for the third time in their history. The Pacific Island men’s team took a bronze medal at the 2013 iteration of the Cup after beating Samoa 3-0. The Papua New Guinea women have also competed twice before but have finished fourth on both occasions.
For one young hockey player from New Zealand, playing in the Oceania Cup is something that wasn’t on his radar until he got a call from the Black Sticks Coach last week. “I got a call from Darren Smith and he said he wanted me to play in the Oceania Cup, making my debut against Australia,” said forward Daniel Harris. “It was an extreme shock but obviously exciting as well, I couldn't be more pleased. I called my mum and she didn't believe me at first but both my parents are absolutely wrapped about it.”
"This is important, there’s world ranking points up for grabs and it’s Australia versus New Zealand so there’s plenty at stake."
Mark Knowles, Australia captain
For Harris, his first match as a Black Stick will be a baptism of fire as they face the world number two team Australia. As his Coach pointed out: “These are some of the hardest defenders in the world, you just have to go out there and do your thing, don’t overthink it.”
There is no doubt that Australia men will take some beating. They will be looking to steal a march on their rivals and move closer to number one in the FIH Hero World Rankings – a spot they relinquished after the 2016 Rio Olympics. They will also be seeking to maintain a 100% record that surely galls their neighbours. Nine editions, nine Kookaburra victories.
In the 2015 edition of the Oceania Cup, the Kookaburras were made to fight every step of the way by New Zealand in a 3-2 thriller that saw Australia take a 3-1 lead then face a frantic last seven minutes as the Black Sticks brought the score back to 3-2 and turned on the pressure, and although Australia survived to take the win, they knew they had been in a game.
Captain of the Kookaburras, Mark Knowles, is aware of the threat posed by New Zealand: “New Zealand are a big rival and will be Commonwealth Games contenders against us next year too. This is important, there’s world ranking points up for grabs and it’s Australia versus New Zealand so there’s plenty at stake.”
In the women’s competition, Australia has the bragging rights as the Hockeyroos have won the event six times but New Zealand have taken the trophy home on three occasions and will be looking to build on a successful FINTRO Hockey World League Semi-Final campaign in Brussels, Belgium where they comprehensively outscored Australia (New Zealand finished in silver medal position, while Australia finished fifth).
“I’m looking forward to what lies ahead for myself and the team. We are a young squad and the future is looking bright for Australian hockey."
Emily Smith, Australia captain
The matches between these two Oceania rivals couldn’t be closer. The past two editions have gone to shoot-out, with Australia taking the gold on both occasions, but during the regulation match time, these are teams that cannot be divided when it comes to continental supremacy.
Emily Smith is the new Hockeyroos captain and she is looking forward to leading her team on home soil. “I’m looking forward to what lies ahead for myself and the team. We are a young squad and the future is looking bright in Australian hockey. I’ve had the opportunity to play under an experienced figure like Madonna Blyth and I’ve learned a lot from from her over the last couple of years. I’m going to use all of that experience and draw upon my teammates around me to ensure we’re headed in the right direction.”
The Oceania Cup gets underway on 11 October. In the opening matches both Papua New Guinea teams will be in action. The women, who are currently ranked 50 in the world, take on New Zealand (World Ranking 6); while the men, ranked 61 in the world, will face the might of Australia.
The results of the Oceania Cup will have an influence on the qualification process for the 2018 men's and women's World Cups, held in Bhubaneswar and London respectively. If either Australia or New Zealand win the men's and women's competition, then France men will be going to the Odisha Hockey Men's World Cup Bhubaneswar 2018 and Ireland women will be heading to the Hockey Women's World Cup London 2018.
Also taking place alongside the Oceania Cup, six nations will be contesting the newly introduced Oceania InterContinental Hockey5s competition. Through this innovative competition, national hockey teams from the Pacific Islands are able to compete on the international stage, gaining experience of top flight competition, as well as demonstrating how far they have developed the game.
The teams taking part in the women’s Hockey5s competition are: Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. The men’s competition comprises Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands.
In the opening matches of this event, Fiji men take on Tonga, while Fiji women will be in action against Vanuatu.
You can follow the Oceania Cup action via the Hockey Australia website or the Hockey Australia social media platforms, using the hashtag #OC2017:
FIH will also be reporting results from the Oceania Cup on its website and social media channels.