New Zealand softball captain Nathan Nukunuku is expecting a tough tussle when the home side hosts Australia in a three-Test series this weekend.
With both teams at the end of their seasons, he expects a top display at North Harbour’s Rosedale Park in the opening game on Friday and in Saturday’s double-header.
Nukunuku says a strong Australian junior programme has paid dividends in strengthening the senior side after a few lean seasons.
“At one stage the Aussies didn’t have a great senior programme, but their junior programme was very good and they won three or four junior world titles,” he said.
“Now all of those junior guys have come through and a lot of their guys have spent time in North America. They’ll be tough to beat this weekend.”
The Black Sox have named a new-look team, but have still kept a few key experienced players to guide the newcomers.
Thomas Makea returns with a valuable contribution to make to the leadership group, backing up Nukunuku, Donny Hale and Brad Rona.
Only seven players remain from those in 2013’s world championship-winning team, which beat Australia 5-4 in a feisty 10-inning quarter-final.
“They were probably the second best team at the world champs last year, even though we beat Venezuela in the final,” Nukunuku said.
The naming of catcher Te Wera Bishop is another feature for the Kiwis, the 20-year-old returning after spending three years with the Boston Red Sox.
Australia have an impressive pitching duo in Adam Folkard and Andrew Kirkpatrick, with Folkard clocked pitching at just under 140km/h and widely regarded as the world’s best while Kirkpatrick recently helped Ramblers win the New Zealand club title.