The Men’s Black Sticks are vowing to lay it all on the line as they take on South Korea for a spot at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
The team has been bolstered by the return of international players Simon Child and Steve Edwards, who re-joined the side for their warmup series against Japan.
“It was really good to have a few of the older boys back in the team and they really made a statement. It helps having that experience, you feel confident having them there,” said defender Kane Russell.
The New Zealanders won the series 3-1, the team gelling well with the old hands back in the mix.
“We haven’t played a lot of hockey together over the last few years but we have played a lot of hockey together across our careers and by game four I felt like I’d been playing with them forever.”
Russell himself is going from strength to strength, finding the back of the net five times against Japan.
“I had a pretty good series, the set plays went really well and I put that down to good teamwork. It’s really nice to get momentum ahead of the qualifier.”
The team now turns its sights to the all-important two match series against South Korea in Taranaki in early November.
The winner takes all format will see the victor qualify for the Olympic Games, with the loser left out in the cold.
“There’s excitement but definitely some nerves as well. We don’t know a lot about Korea, they’ve gone off the radar the last few years.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge and hopefully nailing that ticket.
“We’re peaking at a pretty good time. The reintroduction of some key players has been great and we’ve had a big international window so we’re in pretty good shape,” said Russell.
South Korea are ranked 16th in the world, while the Black Sticks are sitting at 9th.
The games will be contested on November 2nd and 3rd.