The Black Sox are preparing to defend home soil this weekend when they host the Challenge Cup, but with the World Championships looming later this year, pressure isn’t just coming from the opposition.
The New Zealand men’s softball team is preparing to play world no.2 Australia and fourth-ranked Japan in Auckland but there’s pressure coming from closer to home with the Kiwis fielding two squads at Rosedale Park.
Thirty-two of the country’s best have been split into an A and B team for the tournament but captain Nathan Nukunuku says the reserve squad could be the world champions’ biggest challenge.
"They know us better than any other side around the world," he told 1 NEWS.
"They know all of our intricacies, our weaknesses, our strengths."
This weekend’s competition is one of multiple events coach Mark Sorenson and selectors are using to pick their final squad, with next weekend’s National Fastpitch Championship and March’s Open Club Nationals also important fixtures.
In June, The Black Sox will head to Prague looking to defend their title after claiming their seventh world championship in Canada two years ago.
Every member of that seventeen-man squad, apart from Australia-based ace pitcher Nik Hayes who has been rested by management, has been included for this weekend.
However, the formalities stop there with Sorenson wanting everyone to show their current form for selectors.
Nukunuku, a four-time world champion, believes the pressure from selection battles is good for all involved but the individual goals players have for making that final squad go out the door when they step out on the diamond together.
"We have a policy in the Black Sox of 'no dickheads'," he said.
"That’s something that we’ve been able to keep within the side – the boys all buy into the team when they become involved and we show a lot of selflessness out there.
"If it comes into a final and you think you’ve got to hit a home run to make a team and your team needs for you to bunt, every single one of these guys will put a bunt down."
Nukunuku added that mentality isn’t just for on the field as well.
"Being at meetings on time, speaking up if you have injuries – little things like that."
The Black Sox begin their Challenge Cup campaign against the Black Sox B team this afternoon before playing Australia later this evening.