The Kookaburras’ preparations for the 2016 Olympic Games will step up another gear next month at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia with Head Coach Graham Reid naming a strong squad for the annual invitational.
Reid and the selectors have made six changes to the squad that won the World League Final in India last December, the most notable of which are the returns of young athletes Blake Govers, Tom Craig and Flynn Ogilvie.
Experienced defender and penalty corner specialist Chris Ciriello is also included, as is Jake Whetton, who like Govers was due to play in the World League competition before succumbing to injury. Tristan White is the sixth inclusion.
“It’s a strong team, which reflects the importance we put on the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, particularly this year in our preparations for the Olympic Games,” said Reid.
“The Azlan Shah will provide us with a significant portion of the competition we need ahead of Rio and we’ll be using it to test a lot of the scenarios we might come across at the Olympics. We’ll also be using it to test our off-field staff.”
On the athlete selections themselves, Reid added, “Tom Craig has made good inroads in his development in recent months. He didn’t go to the Hockey India League, which allowed him to spend the time getting his body right after missing a large part of 2015 through injury.
“Flynn Ogilvie has also worked hard and is someone we want to see playing amongst quality players.
“We’re conscious that at this stage, 142 days out from Rio, we need to manage the load on a group of players with niggling injuries and those who have played a lot of hockey in the past 12 months to give them the best chance of being in contention for the Games, which is why there are a number of more familiar faces missing.
“We’ve just returned to full training following the Hockey India League so you wouldn’t really say the players have had much of a break. We’re very happy with how connected they were to us in the national program while they were competing in the Hockey India League and I think we’ve utilised the HIL well.”
The Sultan Azlan Shah Cup is an annual invitational tournament, this year featuring seven of the world’s top 16 nations, including fellow Olympic qualifiers New Zealand, India and Canada. Hosts Malaysia, Pakistan and Japan make up the remaining teams.
The tournament, which runs 6-16 April in Ipoh, marks the start of a packed Olympic run-in for the Kookaburras, coming ahead of a series of matches against Great Britain and the Champions Trophy, which was recently moved from Argentina to London.
Blake Govers returns to competitive international hockey for the first time since breaking his ankle, while Whetton also returns after missing out on the World League with a torn quad. Whetton should make his 100th appearance for Australia in the Kookaburras’ opening match against India.
Matt Gohdes is another anticipating a major milestone with his 150th appearance in sight so long as he plays in each of the seven matches, while Jeremy Hayward is expected to make his 50th appearance in the green and gold during the competition.
Eight-times winners of the event, the Kookaburras lost the 2015 final on a shoot-out to New Zealand after a thrilling 2-2 draw.
Amongst those not selected, Kieran Govers is returning from a hamstring injury while Glenn Turner is only just back from a groin injury. Both will continue their recovery in Australia.
Kookaburras’ squad for Sultan Azlan Shah Cup
Ipoh, Malaysia, 6-16 April 2016
Andrew Charter (Canberra, ACT)
Chris Ciriello (Melbourne, VIC)
Tom Craig (Lane Cove, NSW)
Matthew Dawson (Central Coast, NSW)
Jamie Dwyer (Rockhampton, QLD)
Matt Gohdes (Rockhampton, QLD)
Blake Govers (Wollongong, NSW)
Jeremy Hayward (Darwin, NT)
Fergus Kavanagh (Geraldton, WA)
Mark Knowles (Rockhampton, QLD)
Tyler Lovell (Perth, WA)
Eddie Ockenden (Hobart, TAS)
Flynn Ogilvie (Wollongong, NSW)
Simon Orchard (Maitland, NSW)
Matthew Swann (Mackay, QLD)
Jake Whetton (Brisbane, QLD)
Tristan White (Wollongong, NSW)
Aran Zalewski (Margaret River, WA)
Kookaburras’ Sultan Azlan Shah Cup Fixtures
Thursday 7 April – Kookaburras v India – 6:05pm AEST / 4:05pm AWST
Saturday 9 April – Kookaburras v Malaysia – 10:35pm AEST / 8:35pm AWST
Sunday 10 April – Kookaburras v Pakistan – 8:05pm AEST / 6:05pm AWST
Tuesday 12 April – Kookaburras v New Zealand - 6:05pm AEST / 4:05pm AWST
Wednesday 13 April – Kookaburras v Japan – 8:05pm AEST / 6:05pm AWST
Friday 15 April – Kookaburras v Canada – 8:05pm AEST / 6:05pm AWST
Saturday 16 April – Classification Matches
Kookaburras’ Olympic Preparations
6-16 April – Sultan Azlan Shah Cup (Ipoh, Malaysia)
21-24 May – Kookaburras v Great Britain (Western Australia – details to be confirmed)
10-17 June – Men’s Champions Trophy (London, GB)