# Australia hell bent on improving on last year’s 5th placing
# Australia have retained most of last year’s players
# The Burras have an eye on podium finish in the Junior World Cup Finals in India
# SOJC, Australia’s launch to return to Junior World Cup podium
By Rizal Abdullah
Australia finished a dismal fifth in last year’s Sultan of Johor Cup Under-21 Invitational hockey tournament – a poor outing by any Australian hockey standards.
But the Burras are about to change all that in the sixth edition of the world acclaimed Sultan of Johor Cup which is sanctioned and features in the International Hockey Federation (FIH) calendar.
The SOJC will be held from Oct 31-Nov 6 at the Taman Daya Hockey Stadium on the outskirts of Johor Bahru city and has been the home of the tournament since its inauguration in 2011.
The Burras kick-off their campaign against newcomers Japan with a squad set for the upcoming Junior World Cup Finals in Lucknow, India just one month later.
Australia, missed the Junior World Cup podium in 2013 and having never finished outside the top three in back-to-back editions, the pressure is on Ben Bishop’s men.
“As always, it was a difficult task to select this group. Our broader junior program has developed very good depth as a result of the great work done around our network,” said Bishop in a recent interview.
“The group we have selected will enjoy another great competition in Johor Bahru this year against some quality international teams.
“This year, the SOJC presents a further opportunity for us as our major competition focus in the lead up to the Junior World Cup Finals.
“I look forward to seeing our Burras take another step up in their development in readiness for the Junior World Cup.”
Last year Australia had a very poor outing in the SOJC and only managed to defeat Pakistan.
Australia lost to Argentina on the opening day before bouncing back with a 6-2 win over Pakistan, only to lose 3-2 to hosts Malaysia in the following match.
Australia also drew 4-4 with Great Britain and lost 1-0 to India before disposing Pakistan 5-0 to avoid finishing with the wooden spoon.
For this year Australia have a largely unchanged side from last year. Among the 20 players selected are Rio Olympian Blake Govers and fellow Kookaburra Tom Craig. Kiran Arunasalam from the national development squad is also included while the rest are from the national juniors.
With a talent pool so wide, the players are unlikely to take the SOJC lightly as places for the trip to Lucknow, India are up for grabs.
The SOJC will be the last avenue for the Australian hopes to impress and earn a ticket to the Junior World Cup Finals. This is enough to put the Australian team in gear one for the SOJC battle.