13 Apr 2019

Black Sticks hoping for Child boost

12:12 pm on 13 April 2019

Black Sticks men's coach Darren Smith is excited about the prospect of having former captain Simon Child back ahead of their bid for Olympic hockey qualification.

Simon Child celebrates yet another goal for the Black Sticks.

Simon Child celebrates yet another goal for the Black Sticks. Photo: Photosport

A veteran of 274 matches for New Zealand, Child hasn't played for New Zealand since the Rio Olympics after suffering a hip injury while playing in the Hockey India League in February 2017.

The 30-year-old, who is second on the all-time goal-scoring list for the national men's team with 140, underwent surgery and during a long rehabilitation process was even faced with the realisation he may never play for his country again.

But Child is finally back on the field, playing for his Southern club in Auckland, and Smith was hopeful they might have the world class attacker back for their first crack at Tokyo Games qualification at the Oceania Cup in September.

"He's doing really well and enjoying his club hockey," the Black Sticks coach told RNZ.

"We think we can leave him to it and we'll start to look a bit more seriously at it as we get further through the year.

"For us it's fantastic to see a man of that quality healed and playing some hockey.

"If he gets back into the black jersey he'll add some really quality. He's a fantastic hockey player."

The Black Sticks could use a fit and firing Simon Child right now, as well.

Ahead of a game against Argentina in Rosario on Sunday (NZ time), New Zealand are winless after seven matches (five losses, two draws) of hockey's new international Pro League.

The Black Sticks also have just five wins in 26 games since they claimed silver at last year's Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.

But with the Tokyo Olympics just 15 months away, Smith was confident the team was heading in the right direction.

"I'd love to win more games, but there is also the reality that we're building towards a pinnacle event in Tokyo and the qualification for that.

"I'm also happy enough with how we're tracking and looking forward to June and getting every person back and playing and just building towards September and doing a good job against Australia in the Oceania Cup.

That tournament, which will be held in the central Queensland city of Rockhampton, is the first of two opportunities both New Zealand teams will have to qualify for next year's Games in the Japanese capital.

The second, if needed, is a one-off two-match series against a to-be-determined team in November, with the winner on aggregate score booking their berth in Tokyo.

Blair Tarrant of NZ in the New Zealand Vantage Black Sticks v Belgium match. Pro League. Auckland, New Zealand. 1 Feburary 2019.Copyright photo: Alisha Lovrich / www.photosport.nz

The Black Sticks men have had a tough start to their Pro League campaign. Photo: © Photosport Ltd 2019 www.photosport.nz

Although form and rankings may not suggest it, Smith believed his side could upset three-time world champions Australia at the Oceania Cup.

With key squad members set to return from overseas playing committments in June, Smith said his eighth-ranked team would be primed for a shot at the world No 2 Kookaburras.

"We'll have a solid preparation. We'll have a June where we'll be in Europe for a month [playing Pro League matches] at full strength.

"Then we'll have a July where the guys will take a break from hockey but they'll be in physical preparation.

"Then in August we've got a really good series in prep for that Oceania Cup, so we'll be well prepared to see if we can knock over Aussie."

The Black Sticks regain the services of captain and defender Blair Tarrant and striker Marcus Child for this weekend's match against the reigning Olympic champions from South America.

The duo are two of seven frontline squad members, alongside drag-flicking pair Kane Russell and Nic Woods, goal-scoring duo Hugo Inglis and Stephen Jenness and midfielder Nick Ross, who have been playing overseas during the team's Pro League campaign thus far.

While he acknowledged it's not ideal, he believed the absence of those players did have positive spin-offs ahead of the team's bid for Olympic qualification later this year.

"Yea, I mean we miss them and I would love to be able to select a consistent team all the time but being able to give guys a chance can also bode well for the future.

"It just increases the depth in our squad and if you give a guy an opportunity, they can take a mile and all of a sudden be a frontline player, just through getting that opportunity to play."