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Date: 8/26/2018

2018 has been a significant year for New Zealand handball. In January, the men’s national team participated in their first major international event outside of Oceania: the 2018 Asian Men’s Handball Championship. In July, the New Zealand men’s beach handball team made their debut at the IHF World Championship in Kazan, Russia. 

“The World Championships are a new level of professionalism both on and off court compared to the tournaments that our players had experienced in the past,” says coach Ben Dawson, reflecting on the campaign at Kazan 2018. “The ability to immerse themselves in the pinnacle event of our sport was hugely beneficial to the team’s progress.” 

“Huge optimism for future events”

For Dawson, the World Championship campaign was very positive, though the team ranked 16th. 

“In our own opinion, the overall the campaign was successful. This might seem strange looking purely at the results given that we walked away without a win and finished last out of the 16 teams, but these results don’t show the smaller indicators of successful teams such as achieving the ninth best shooting percentage,” says Dawson. 

“Other than statistics, the way in which we lost a few games gives us huge optimism for future events: losing on penalties to Vietnam, Golden Goal to Australia and losing on the final throw to Argentina. There were multiple other games where we were tied after seven or eight minutes against teams like Spain and Qatar. We will go back and reassess our process to find improvements and use the many lessons learned to better improve NZHF’s chances of success at future tournaments.”

Participation in the IHF World Championship is something the New Zealand teams have been working towards for some time. It has been a case of ‘so close yet so far’, with New Zealand often only losing to Australia in the qualification phase after penalty shoot-outs. 

Representing both New Zealand and Oceania

“Stepping onto the court for the first time and representing your country is always very special. The team is like a brotherhood who do so much together and sacrificed a lot to get to this tournament,” says specialist James Cochrane. “When we walked onto the court that first time, it was a dream come true and a realisation that we were all living our dream attending a World Championship. While there was a lot of pressure, excitement and nerves, it was still an extremely special feeling.”

It was the first time that seasoned World Championship participants Australia competed at an IHF event alongside their Oceania neighbours New Zealand, and the support between the sides was clear to see.

“When we play each other, we go as hard as we possibly can to succeed, but when we aren’t playing each other we love to see both teams grow in experience and get positive results,” says Cochrane. “It is very much like a sibling relationship. When we represent our countries, we are not only representing our own country, but also Oceania which we are very proud of.”

The World Championship experience has already been invaluable in showing the New Zealand team how they measure up against other nations. 

“Our team focused on playing our own style of Beach Handball. Croatia and Brazil play with very different styles and yet they are both world champion teams. This proves there is no perfect way to play but there are always ways to improve,” says coach Dawson. “Our style of play found the best opportunities to score and keep a high percentage, but we now need to work on generating more of these opportunities, scoring more goals.”

“Suffering so many close defeats will help us in the long term and we hope to flip the coin onto winning those close crunch matches,” says specialist Tim Rayner. 

“My biggest learning as a specialist in the middle, is how quickly or differently each team will play you. This is not something we tend to see at Australian Nationals (our biggest annual tournament). Each team shows you different options and when you have success they quickly adapt and take your natural game away from you, forcing change. This is where the experience of Worlds is invaluable to learn new ways required to get efficient attacks.”

More information on New Zealand handball can be found on the official Facebook page