Newly crowned national champions headline Blackjacks squad

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Katelyn Inch in action at the 2019 Multi Nations tournament on the Gold Coast

Katelyn Inch and Andrew Kelly have secured selection in the Blackjacks squad for next month’s Trans Tasman (February 4-6) on the Gold Coast, following their standout performances at the Summerset National Singles and Pairs.

Inch, 24, broke through to win both the women’s singles and pairs titles at Papanui Club in Christchurch, while Kelly won the men’s singles crown for the first time, just hours after finishing runner-up in the pairs.

Inch will again skip the New Zealand women’s triple and four, as she did in the agonising Trans Tasman defeat to Australia late last year.

Two-time defending Commonwealth Games champion Jo Edwards has once more been chosen to represent New Zealand in the singles and pairs, despite losing to Inch in the final of the nationals.

“Jo is regarded as the number one female player in the world and there was certainly no thought of moving Katelyn into those roles,” convenor of selectors Phil Skoglund said.

“Jo’s served New Zealand very, very well in those positions and we will continue to select her in those roles until she tells us otherwise.

“But the great thing about Katelyn’s results is that now we’ve got someone who possibly will take up that mantle in the future, which is really heartening.”

Selina Goddard, who won the pairs with Inch, has kept her place in the squad but will have a new role.

As well as playing two for Inch in the four she will lead for Edwards in the pair.

Wendy Jensen has been recalled in place of Tayla Bruce and will lead for Inch in both the triple and four.

“The selection team thought although Tayla played solidly at the Multi Nations and Trans Tasman, we’re still looking to give other people an opportunity in that position [lead in the pair],” Skoglund said.

“Selina’s form during the nationals was very good and we thought she deserved a shot at that position.”

Andrew Kelly couldn’t be overlooked as a result of his performances at the nationals and has been selected on the proviso his first child, which is due later this month, arrives before the Trans Tasman.

“Andrew’s been quite honest with the selectors and has said if the baby isn’t born by the time of the event then he’ll make himself unavailable,” Skoglund said.

Kelly has been named to lead for the men’s triple and four, which both will be skipped by Ali Forsyth.

Mike Kernaghan has been recalled, after missing the Multi Nations and Trans Tasman in November due to work commitments, and will play two in both teams.

“His domestic form hasn’t been at the level that we would have expected from him, but he comes with so much experience and he’s a vital cog in the New Zealand team,” Skoglund said.

“We really wanted to give him another opportunity to force his way back into that world championship team.”

Gary Lawson will play three in the four and will skip the pair, back alongside Shannon McIlroy, who also returns after being unavailable for the last trip because of family reasons.

McIlroy, who has also been selected to play singles, is a welcome addition to the Blackjacks men, having gone unbeaten on his way to winning the men’s singles and pairs at the Asia Pacific Championships last year.

Phil Skoglund has made it clear the Trans Tasman is “the final trial” for the world championships later in the year, after being disappointed with the performances of the New Zealand team at the Multi Nations and Trans Tasman.

“There still are positions up for grabs. The Trans Tasman test in February is going to be huge because we are looking for results. We really want to see these players step up and deliver.

“It’s a great opportunity for those players that have been selected if they put a very good performance together at the Trans Tasman then clearly they’ll have the front-running.

“At this stage people can play themselves in and people can play themselves out so it’s a huge event.”

Jamie Hill, who represented New Zealand at the Asia Pacific Champs, Multi Nations and Trans Tasman last year, has made himself unavailable for international selection.

“It’s a real shame to see him withdraw, but we understand the reasons why,” Skoglund said.

“It’s really difficult for the players. We’re not a professional sport [and] players have to commit a huge amount of time to the process, the high performance framework and the periods away from home.

“Some of these players are finding it quite difficult financially to commit to that time period.”

Blackjacks team for the Trans Tasman test series (February 4-6):
Women – Jo Edwards (singles & pairs), Selina Goddard (pairs & fours), Katelyn Inch (triples & fours), Val Smith (triples & fours) and Wendy Jensen (triples & fours).
Men – Shannon McIlroy (singles & pairs), Gary Lawson (pairs & fours), Ali Forsyth (triples & fours), Mike Kernaghan (triples & fours) and Andrew Kelly (triples & fours).