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Black Sticks focus on tournament opener

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 5/04/2016

Hugo Inglis of New Zealand © Getty Images/Joel Ford Hugo Inglis of New Zealand New Zealand aren't looking past their opening game against the tournament hosts when they launch the defence of their Sultan Azlan Shah Cup men's hockey title in Malaysia.

The Black Sticks face a hot-and-cold Malaysian side in Ipoh on Wednesday wary of the possible pitfalls despite boasting a world ranking five places higher than the 13th-ranked home side.

A four-Test home series against Malaysia in March was hard-fought, with New Zealand emerging 2-1 winners.

Striker Hugo Inglis says it is important New Zealand improve on those performances and make a winning start to the 10-day, seven-nation tournament which operates on a round-robin format.

"The thing with Malaysia, one day they can be fairly average and the next day they can be the best team in the world," Inglis said.

"With the home crowd behind them they'll be good to go. There are some really competitive nations after that but hopefully we can make a good start."

World No.1 Australia and New Zealand have shared the honours at the annual tournament for the last five years, with the Black Sticks also victorious in 2012.

They did it the hard way last year, toppling Australia 3-1 in a penalty shootout on the back of some heroics from goalkeeper Devon Manchester after the final was locked 2-2 at fulltime.

The trans-Tasman rivals, who share the same Olympic pool at Rio, are favoured to reach the decider again although five-time champions India (ranked seventh), Pakistan (10th), Canada (14th) and Japan (16th) are all worthy opponents, Inglis said.

The prolific Inglis, 25, is encouraged by the progress made during last month's home series wins over Malaysia and Korea (2-0), particularly up front.

"From series to series we really stepped it up a notch," he said.

"Our counter-attack, especially, was dangerous. It's a real strength of our game now. We've got some pretty quick guys up there who can score some good goals."

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