By By BRENDON EGAN
STICK TO IT: The Samoan men's hockey team get some practise in at Turnbull Thomson Park ahead of the Oceania Cup tournament in Invercargill, starting on Tuesday.ROBYN EDIE
When New Zealand hockey players turn up for an international match, they usually have four or five sticks in their gear bag.
That luxury does not exist for the Samoan national hockey team, though.
Samoa arrived for their first practice on the Turnbull Thomson Park turf in Invercargill earlier this week with most players not even owning their own stick. They will be all good to go for next week's Oceania Cup tournament in the city, however, with the Oceania Hockey Federation supplying several sticks and some also being donated from the recent Champions Trophy tournament in Australia.
Oceania Hockey development manager Gill Gemming, who is with the team for the tournament, said it was the first time many players in the side had used a stick the correct size.
"It's something New Zealand players take for granted," Gemming said.
"They turned up and were sharing them around ... The sticks they have been using are designed for kids. They were only up to their thighs. It has been an issue. It's probably the first time they've held the right size stick in their hand until now."
The Samoans have also had clothing provided by Hockey New Zealand and Hockey Australia for the tournament.
Samoa will be on a hiding to nothing at next week's tournament. The women's side has not competed in the Oceania Cup for 25 years, while the men have never played in a Pacific Cup, let alone an Oceania Cup.
On Wednesday, the men's and women's sides played Gore High School in their first ever match on a water-based turf at the Turnbull Thomson Park facilities. The enormity of their challenge next week was highlighted with the women losing 4-0 to Gore High and the men drawing their match 2-2.
Some detractors will argue that losing by a cricket score to New Zealand and Australia will not do the Samoans any good, but Gemming disagreed.
"They are aware they are underdogs. They're learning from every match they play here. It is always a difficulty if you get taken to the cleaners, but the support network around them is very good...
"At the last Oceania Cup, PNG (Papua New Guinea) were in a similar position. Samoa has had a few more build games. The Samoan men are fitter and more athletic. They're really looking forward to their first game."
The Samoan sides will be using the Oceania Cup as a leadup to the Pacific Cup tournament in Fiji in December. Gemming said gaining experience against Australia and New Zealand who are both ranked in the top 10 in the world would be invaluable for the Samoan players.
At home, Samoan hockey is taking steps to take hockey into schools and they also plan to possibly field under-19 sides at Pacific tournaments in the future. Gemming believed this would help the game in Samoa.
"Samoa have a very proactive administration. They've done a lot in the last 12 months with getting youth started. It will be a base to build on ... With time they will hopefully build up a base of players, so they have a wider group to call on."
She hoped that Fiji and Papua New Guinea would compete at the next Oceania Cup in 2011 to allow the smaller nations in the Pacific to test themselves against each other and also gain valuable top-level exposure against Australia and New Zealand.