20 Jun 2015

Rio beckons Black Sticks at World League

3:01 pm on 20 June 2015

The Black Sticks Women begin their quest to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics on Saturday at the World League semi-finals in Antwerp, Belgium.

The New Zealanders are among 10 of the world's top teams competing at the tournament which runs from 20 June - 5 July, with a top four finish earning a spot at the World League final at the end of the year.

The Black Sticks captain Anita Punt

The Black Sticks captain Anita Punt Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The tournament also doubles as an opportunity to qualify for Rio, with a top three placing securing an automatic berth.

First up at the tournament for the Black Sticks are relative unknowns Poland at 8pm (NZT) on Saturday.

New Zealand's backline is strengthened with the return of experienced goalkeeper Sally Rutherford who has recovered from a broken toe which kept her out of action for several months.

Canterbury's Sophie Cocks is back in the side following a recent illness, while versatile midfielder Julia King has earned a call-up thanks to a strong club season in England.

Striker Kirsten Pearce (14 caps) will play in her first major international tournament having impressed during the recent Hawke's Bay Cup.

The side is captained by Anita Punt as part of a leadership group also including Sam Charlton and Stacey Michelsen.

New Zealand is joined in Pool B at the tournament by Australia, Belgium, India and Poland while Pool A consists of Netherlands, Korea, Japan, Italy and France.

The World League format sees New Zealand play four pool games ahead of a crucial sudden-death quarter final against a Pool A opponent.