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Darwin a testing ground for Black Sticks

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 30/05/2016

It's not a regular stop on their international calendar but Australia's Northern Territory is the setting for a vital week in the Black Sticks women's Rio Olympic preparations.

The fourth-ranked New Zealanders open a four-nation tournament campaign against world No.13 India in Darwin on Tuesday, followed by games against third-ranked Australia and 10th-ranked Japan. It concludes with a final on Saturday.

Coach Mark Hager's team is at close to full strength and after several days training in the heat, he says he is ready to pull his selector's hat on.

"Darwin gives us the chance to continue looking at players and how they perform during high intensity games," he said.

"We see the series as a valuable and critical part of our build-up to the Champions Trophy and also Rio, which is what all our preparations are building towards this year."

Experienced striker Petrea Webster makes her return after missing the recent Hawke's Bay Cup tournament in Hastings due to a broken nose and concussion suffered at training during January's tour to Argentina.

Fellow North Harbour forward Kirsten Pearce is also back after breaking her thumb in Hastings.

Canterbury duo Sophie Cocks (96 caps) and Pippa Hayward (98 caps) are poised to become the latest in a growing line of current Black Sticks centurions.

Hager will next week name a squad to contest the Champions Trophy in London from June 19-27, five weeks out from the Olympics.

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