Aussies prepare for Challenge

AUSTRALIAN under-20 men’s handball coach Jason Hoppner expects his team to win this week’s historic IHF Oceania Challenge Trophy tournament in Ipswich.

However, the former professional player said it was how his team developed during the week-long championships that mattered most.

Australia meets Vanuatu in its opening 1.30pm game tomorrow at the Redbank and Collingwood Park Sports Complex.

The Challenge Trophy favourites also face main rivals New Zealand and emerging handball countries like Samoa, Cook Islands and Solomon Islands from December 7-13.

“This is probably the first major championship that’s been put together specifically for the juniors,” Hoppner said in between yesterday’s national team training sessions at QUT campus.

“This is a great opportunity to see how the development of juniors is going, outside of Australia as well.

“There’s a little bit of uncertainty as far as the skill level of the opposition we’re coming up against.”

However, Australia has high expectations.

“We want to win. We are probably the most developed handball nation in the Oceania area,” the national coach said.

“Whether we win by 10, 20, 30 points, I guess we want to play nice handball and attractive handball.

“What we want to be able to do is make sure we win but we also want to develop a style of handball we can use when we come up against the stronger international competition.”

The team that wins the tournament will secure a place in the Challenge Trophy next year.

The Australian players are also preparing for the world championships in Sweden next month.

Brisbane-based Hoppner, 35, is coaching the under-20 team for the first time, having previously guided Queensland junior teams and played professionally overseas.

The new-look Australian under-20 side was finalised a month ago.

“We’re looking good,” he said.

“We’ve had a couple of training camps prior to this week. This is the first major tournament the guys are playing together as a team.”

As for Australia’s first opponents Vanuatu, Hoppner said they had a handball following through their French influence.

“They’re not bad,” he said.

“Their handball is a little bit more developed than say the Cook Islands, where it’s still very much in its infancy.

“We expect a very physical game. What we do know from the Pacific Islanders is what they lack in handball skill, they make up for in size and talent.”

Top tournament

Schedule for the IHF Oceania Challenge Trophy at the Redbank and Collingwood Park Sports Complex:

Tomorrow: 1.30pm: Vanuatu v Australia. 3pm: Samoa v New Zealand. 4.30pm: Cook Islands v Solomon Islands.

Wednesday: 1.30pm: Australia v Samoa. 3pm: Cook Islands v Vanuatu. 4.30pm: New Zealand v Solomon Islands.

Thursday: 1pm: Solomon Islands v Samoa. 2.30pm: Australia v Cook Islands. 4pm: New Zealand v Vanuatu.

Friday: 10.15am: Cook Islands v Samoa. 11.45am: Vanuatu v Solomon Islands. 1.15pm: New Zealand v Australia.

Saturday: 1.30pm: Cook Islands v New Zealand. 3pm: Solomon Islands v Australia. 4.30pm: Samoa v Vanuatu.

Sunday: Semi-finals at 2pm and 4pm.

Monday, December 13: Playoffs from 1pm and Oceania Challenge Trophy final at 4pm.

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