HOCKEY: The Hockey Oceania Cup kicks off in Sydney tonight and Kookaburras captain Mark Knowles says it’s a great chance to grow the game in the region.
Australia will play New Zealand and Papua New Guinea in the three-team biennial tournament at Sydney Olympic Park Hockey Centre.
The Kookaburras will commence their campaign against PNG on Wednesday night from 8pm.
“The Oceania Cup is really important with world ranking points which is important for seedings at the World Cup,” Knowles said.
“It’s also a chance to play one of our big rivals in New Zealand but also expand the game in Oceania.
“Tonight’s game against PNG will be fantastic for them to learn a bit about the Kookaburras and our style but also for some of our guys to play against those guys and show the love of hockey that we have and also see the love of hockey that they have.”
The Kookaburras trained on Wednesday morning ahead of the game, having arrived in Sydney on Monday night.
Most of the team is fresh from competing at the Australian Hockey League which concluded in Perth on Sunday.
“We’re feeling great,” Knowles said. “It’s a really big challenge for the guys to snap into national team mode and get the feeling back that the Kookaburras have had this last 12 months.”
Second-ranked Australia are expected to battle it out with New Zealand (ranked eighth) for the title, with PNG (ranked 61st) going in as the underdogs.
Australia, who have won all nine Oceania Cups, hasn’t played the tournament on home turf since 2011, with the past two held in Stratford, New Zealand.
“It’s a big rivalry. We absolutely love playing in Australia which is good,” Knowles said.
“We had to play in New Zealand the last two Oceania Cups in front of their black and white supporters, now they get to come and be in front of the green and gold.
There will be live Twitter updates for all Australia games @Kookaburras and Saturday and Sunday's matches will be live streamed at Epicentre.tv.