Meet the NZ men's handball team out to cause upsets at first big international tournament

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Handball is growing as a sport in New Zealand and a major milestone is about to be realised - for the first time a Kiwi team will compete in the Asia Men's Handball Championship next month in South Korea.

The team, yet to find its own catchy name, is heading to the Asia Men's Handball Championship in South Korea.
Source: 1 NEWS

The sport brings together aspects of football, basketball, ice hockey and rugby.

"It's pretty unbelievable, I to be honest never wanted to go to South Korea before so it's a good opportunity," goalkeeper Thomas Roxburgh said.

Team member Luke Ireland said the team has only previously competed internationally in the Oceania Championship in Australia.

"To make it is huge... If this sport kicks off we're going to look back on this tournament as this is where it all started, so I mean everyone's just feeling geared up to go over there and have a crack at it," he said.

The national team of 15 men and two coaches will head to the championships next month, which act as a qualifier for the 2019 World Men's Championship.

There's around 500 handball players across New Zealand but the sport's hub is based in Wellington where there's a league competition and weekly games. It's also where the national team meet for training camps, with several players travelling from outside the capital.

Overseas, the sport is as popular as rugby in some European and Arab countries, and almost as bruising. Kids can start playing at primary school.

Here, most players join up around university age through friends already part of the 'tight-knit' community, team member Mr Ireland said.

The national team ranges in age from 18 to 46, bringing together students and full-time professionals, ranging from an architect to teacher and sales representative.

The team's self-funding their road to the championship through fundraising and sponsorship deals. Each team member's cost is around $8000.

It's a far cry from the situation of the paid professionals in the championship, including past Olympic teams like Qatar who they'll play.

Coach Ludovic Galliegue said the competition will be tough but whatever the outcome, it will be a significant step for putting New Zealand on the map for handball. He said they plan to leave with no regrets.

"We are really going there to make a few upsets and get a few wins," he said.

"These guys are a very good example on how quickly New Zealanders can get good at the game and can progress very fast, these guys are starting very late in their lifetime so it's a very good showcase."

The team said many Kiwis would enjoy playing the sport due to it being a bit like rugby with contact involved. The championship's part of their mission to spread word of the sport, with the biggest misconception being that they play the lunchtime version, also known as four-square.

"It's fast, it's physical and there's a lot of skill involved. I think New Zealanders are quite built for the sport but all the tall guys are playing basketball and volleyball but it would be good to get them over to handball and see what we can do," team member Karl Fitzpatrick said.

The countdown's now on but the team's still in need of one thing to make a lasting, but appropriate, impression.

"We've been looking for public interest to try give us a name because as this point we really haven't been able to come up with anything catchy," Mr Ireland said.

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