On 27 January 2019, New Zealand will play host to the Netherlands, the first of a series of teams travelling to the Southern Hemisphere for the first set of FIH Pro League fixtures.
First the women, currently ranked sixth in the world, will attempt something 43 previous opponents have failed to do – beat the world’s top ranked team. Two hours later and it will be the turn of the Black Sticks men’s side, currently sitting at ninth in the world ranking, five place behind their European visitors.
For both the men and the women, the FIH Pro League is a fantastic opportunity to showcase hockey to its population. The women's FIH Hockey World League Final in 2017 was a taste of what New Zealand could offer. Among players from across the globe, New Zealand is one of the most often mentioned countries when the athletes are talking about places they are excited about visiting.
Five of the 2019 Pro League fixtures in New Zealand will take place at the North Harbour Hockey Stadium in Auckland, the venue that so successfully hosted the HWL Final. The other fixtures – against Germany men and women, Pakistan men, China women, Spain men and USA women – will take place at Ngā Puna Wai, Christchurch.
Organisers at the two stadium promise: “Two venues set up to not only provide an avenue for great international hockey but also a festival atmosphere where there will be food and games designed for the whole family to get a taste of what the visiting nations have to offer.”
The Auckland venue is the largest hockey facility in New Zealand and boasts three water-based turfs, while the hockey facilities in Christchurch will be seeing international action for the first time as two brand new water turfs will be opening at the beginning of 2019.
For both the men’s and women’s teams, the FIH Pro League will be a chance to re-establish themselves after a relatively disappointing 2018.
The men, who are currently competing at the Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup have held steady in the top 10 but they only narrowly managed to qualify for the World Cup – they had an anxious wait after finishing sixth in the Hockey World League Semi-Finals in Johannesburg – is indicative of a team that has struggled to perform to their best of late.
And the Black Sticks women slipped down the rankings from fourth to sixth after a poor showing at the Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup.
That said, New Zealand women came within a whisper of defeating the Netherlands in the HWL Semi-Finals in Brussels. New Zealand thought they had won the shoot out with an Olivia Merry goal but a canny video referral saw the goal disallowed and the Netherlands went on to win the contest.
The Black Sticks women also beat the world number three team and Oceanic rivals Australia in the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. A result made all the sweeter as the victory look place in the Hockeyroos’ backyard.
Both the men’s and women’s teams have an experienced core of players who will be crucial to their FIH Pro League campaigns.
For the men’s team, Shea McAleese and Arun Panchia have more than 500 caps between them, while the women’s team boasts Stacey Michelsen on 261 caps and Sam Charlton on 226 caps. There are also some exciting youngsters, in the men’s team Hayden Phillips is fast becoming a stalwart of the team, while for the women, Olivia Shannon looks to be a bright prospect for the future.
For a full schedule and more information on the FIH Pro League, click .