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Dalefield eye return to the top

Dalefield’s premier hockey teams are determined to better last season’s third placings and return to the top of Wellington Premier Hockey. Times-Age sportswriter CHRIS COGDALE looks at both teams ahead of a new-look season.

Dalefield will start their 2023 campaigns this afternoon against Harbour City at Wellington’s national hockey stadium. Six teams will line up in the men’s premiership, while seven will front in the premier women’s championship.

However, the two Wairarapa teams will also face teams from Manawatu and Hawke’s Bay in an innovative new Intercity Championship, which take place halfway through the season. Dalefield will play in the tier-one competitions for men and women.

MEN

Dalefield will start their season without two of their most influential players.

Player-coach Dane Lett is out for the opening weeks, away with the Black Sticks preparing for the next round of the International Pro-League starting next week in Christchurch, and assistant coach-player Benedict van Woerkom is out indefinitely with a back injury.

The pair have assembled a squad similar to last year, with the main losses being Zac Caldwell and Phil Arkel, both playing only local league matches.

Goalkeeper Jack Wyllie and Jarod Yee from Kuranui College are two new faces in the team which should challenge for championship honours at the end of the season.

However, getting a team together for this afternoon has proved challenging, with van Woerkom saying that six or seven regular players are unavailable.

He is confident there is enough depth in the team to come away with three points this afternoon; however, he said the focus would be on wanting to peak at the right time of the season when the championships are on the line.

Van Woerkom is rapt with the new six-team format, which has done away with a weak team such as Tawa that struggled to match up against the stronger clubs last season.

He also relishes the prospect of playing in the Intercity competition and said it would provide more quality games against good teams.

WOMEN

The return of Katherine Reisima and the experienced Emma Smith is a massive boost to an already strong squad.

Reisima, who coached the side to championship glory in 2021, missed last season to have her first child. She joins Michael O’Connor as a coach. Smith has returned from overseas.

The loss of talented goalkeeper Amy Rossiter-Stead is a big blow, while Kianna Dawson is studying at a US university, and Amie McAnulty and Lauren Mahoney are unavailable.

Former Wairarapa College and St Matthew’s goalkeeper Luana Felix joins the side, as does Pippa Raleigh, Alana Low, and Jorja Sacke.

O’Connor is confident there is the depth in the squad to be serious challenges in the seven-team premiership but said a change of format because of the break for the Intercity competition will see the elimination of semifinals, with the top two teams after two full rounds to meet in the final.

“Bonus points are really going to come into play, and that could be the difference,” O’Connor said.

“I think we’ll be pretty competitive again, and I’m really looking forward to the season.”

Chris Cogdale
Chris Cogdale
Chris “Coggie” Cogdale has extensive knowledge of sport in Wairarapa having covered it for more than 30 years, including radio for 28 years. He has been the sports guru at the Wairarapa Times-Age since 2019.

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