Australia’s best male softball players will have a chance to get some high-level competition and impress national selectors at a seven-nation tournament in New Zealand early next year.
The five-day Challenge Cup, to be held in Auckland, is expected to also feature teams from the USA, Japan, Argentina, the Czech Republic, Samoa and New Zealand.
Australia will send a development team, including a mix of established and potential national players, who will be selected from the 2016 Aussie Steelers squad.
The event will give selectors an extra opportunity to evaluate players ahead of the 2017 Men’s World Championship in Whitehorse, Canada.
Australian Head Coach Laing Harrow says the team will consist of a mix of established players and some who are inexperienced at the top level.
“With a World Championship later in the year, it’s hard to expect guys to take time off work twice in the same year,” Harrow said.
“Some won’t be able to make it. The positive to that is that it opens the door for new players to gain international experience against quality opposition and for us to see what they can do at a high level.
“It also gives us a chance to see what depth we have in our program.”
Harrow expects Japan and the USA to be Australia’s toughest opponents, even without knowing which players will be sent out. “With Japan, whoever they send will be high quality. Their program is world class from the Under 13s up to Under 19s.
“And the US will want to send out their best players to see how they compare with the other top teams.”
After the Challenge Cup, which will be held at Auckland’s Rosedale Park starting on 8 February, the Steelers team will be chosen to represent Australia at the 2017 Men’s Softball World Championship.
It will be the first time the Canadian territory of Yukon has hosted a senior men’s event, although it has been the venue for three previous World Championships – the Junior Men’s in 2008 and 2014, as well as the 2012 Women’s.
The 10-day event is scheduled to begin on 7 July 2017. Participating teams are still to be determined, but the previous World Championship, held in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, included 15 teams.
The gold medal in 2015 was won by Canada, who defeated New Zealand 10-5 in the final. Venezuela claimed the bronze medal.