Dalefield are sweating on the fitness of national Under-21 squad member Jordan Cohen, who rolled an ankle last week. PHOTO/FILE

HOCKEY

CHRIS COGDALE
chris.cogdale@age.co.nz

Dalefield have claimed the underdog tag heading into today’s Wellington Premier One men’s final against Hutt United at the National Hockey Stadium.

The teams have clearly been the best two sides in the championship throughout the season.

Each have had a win apiece in their encounters during the regular season. Hutt won their playoff game two weeks ago in a shootout after they were 2-2 at full-time.

The two have also met in the past three finals, with Dalefield winning in 2016 and Hutt prevailing in 2017 and 2018.

Dalefield will go into the final minus their inspirational player-coach Dane Lett, who is playing for the Black Sticks in a four-nations series in Japan.

They’re also sweating on the fitness of national Under-21 squad member Jordan Cohen, who rolled an ankle last week.

Co-manager Bernie Lett said the absence of both players would be a blow for the team.

“We’ve played without Dane plenty of times before, but we have a lot of depth and experience and we’re confident in the players we have to get the job done,” he said.

“Jordan is a classy player and if he was missing too, it would leave a big hole in the midfield.”

Bernie Lett said the key to playing Hutt was to be tight on defence.

“They’re the sort of team that don’t like being stifled; they like the attacking and free-flowing game, so we’ll go out to frustrate them. They’re a team we can upset by limiting their opportunities.”

Trent Lett, Daniel van Woerkom, Ethan Presow, and Jayan Parbhu will shoulder much of the defensive workload. The vastly experienced John Forsyth will guard the cage.

Dalefield’s Achilles heel this season has been an inability to take full advantage of their opportunities.

They squandered several chances to take a handy lead in the first quarter of the playoff so they would need to be spot-on today.

“We’ll get our fair share of possession and it’s really important that when we get into the circle, we get an outcome, whether that’s a shot on goal or a penalty corner.”

The pressure will be on captain Rowan Yeo, Dylan Price, Wairarapa College student Ollie Bunny, Hamish Finlayson and Zac Hardie to deliver on attack.

Benedict van Woerkom, Nathan Whiteman, Cohen and Alex Sumenko-Bucknell are expected to bear much of the midfield work.

The closeness of the two teams could well have the championship decided in a shootout, and Bernie Lett said Dalefield had been working on them since their loss two weeks ago.

“If it gets that far, we hope it goes better. It’s very specialist; it’s difficult, not only for the goalkeepers but also on the takers.”

The final hits off at the NHS at 2pm today.

The Dalefield men can expect some raucous support from their female counterpart who play Victoria University in the third-fourth playoff starting at noon.

The game is a repeat of their clash two weeks ago which was won 3-1 by Victoria, and repeat of last year’s third-fourth playoff, also won by Victoria.

Coach Michael O’Connor is hoping for a positive finish for his young team.

“I think third would be a good place. We were fourth last year in a shootout and we don’t want to get there again.”