Oceania Cup: Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea to contest for continental title
Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea will be contesting the Oceania Cup from 11-15 October in Sydney, Australia, with the Intercontinental Hockey5s taking place alongside the Oceania Cup at the Olympic Park Hockey Centre.
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 these two top 10-ranked opponents.
With both Australia and New Zealand men and women already quailified for the men’s and women’s Hockey World Cups in Bhubaneswar and London respectively, a place at both the men’s and the women’s World Cup will become available if either New Zealand or Australia win their continental championships. France men and Ireland women are the two teams anxiously waiting on the results from Sydney.
Menawhile, taking place at the same time, the newly introduced Intercontinental Hockey5s has attracted entries from Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea. In addition a team of Australian U21 players will also be competing in the men’s tournament.
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.
This edition of the Oceania Cup will see Papua New Guinea men and women taking part for the third time in their history. The Pacific Island men’s team (World Ranking: 61) took a bronze medal at the 2013 edition of the Cup after beating Samoa 3-0. Papua New Guinea women (WR:50) have also competed twice before, finishing fourth on both occasions.
For one young hockey player from New Zealand (WR:8), playing in the Oceania Cup is something that wasn’t on his radar until he got a call from the Black Sticks coach Darren Smith earlier this week. “I got a call yesterday [Monday] from Darren Smith and he said he wanted me to play in the Oceania Cup, making my debut against Australia,” says forward Daniel Harris.
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.”
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 world – a spot they relinquished after the 2016 Rio Olympics. They will also be seeking to maintain a 100 per cent record at this event, nine wins from nine competitions.
In the 2015 edition of the Oceania Cup, the Kookaburras were made to fight every step of the way by New Zealand in a thrilling match that saw Australia take a 3-1 lead then face a frantic last seven minutes to hold onto the lead as the Black Sticks brought the score back to 3-2.
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 (WR:5) has the bragging rights as the Hockeyroos have won the event six times but New Zealand (WR:6) have taken the trophy home on three occasions and will be looking to build on a successful Hockey World League Semi-Final campaign where they comprehensively outpointed Australia. [New Zealand finished in silver medal position, while Australia finished fifth].
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.”
The Oceania Cup gets underway on 11 October. In the opening matches both Papua New Guinea teams will be in action. The women take on New Zealand; while the men will face the might of Australia.
The teams taking part in the women’s Intercontinental 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.