Both of Northern Tasmania’s under-18 state hockey representatives have taken an unusual path to April’s national championships in Hobart.
If being funnelled through the state talent pathway from an early age was the Midland Highway, Kaleb Nielsen and Sam Elliston-Buckley have taken the scenic route through Cradle Mountain with stops at Queenstown and Ouse along the way.
Still only 16, Nielsen has been playing for little more than two years and is yet to join a Northern club.
The Trevallyn talent was first spotted playing school hockey for St Pats and had never been picked in a state team before being named in the squad earlier this month.
Elliston-Buckley will also play state hockey for the first time after making the under-18s train-on squad last year.
A wicketkeeper-batsman who scored his first under-18 ton for Launceston before Christmas, Elliston-Buckley has an extra year of experience under his belt and scored two goals in South Launceston’s Greater Northern League grand final win over Burnie last year.
“I was pretty pleased actually, I was quite happy that the hard work had paid off and I’d gotten in the team,” the 17-year-old said.
“I’ve been playing since grade eight when some mates got me into hockey.
“I like to think I’m quick and I can score a couple of goals - I can defend a bit but not that well.”
Former school hockey opponents, the pair have set their sights on bettering the state’s fifth-placed finish at last year’s championships.
Both will ply their trades in the forward half, with Nielsen likely to be deployed on a wing.
“I used to play inner when I played for school, play in the midfield and run around there but now I’m more wing,” Nielsen said.
“It’s interesting playing up forward - I’ll see if I can get a few sneaky goals and see what happens.
“I’m pretty quick and I’ve got a bit of pace so I might be able to get around someone a bit faster than usual.”
Nielsen, who plans to join a Launceston club this season, said he was keen to test his game against the best juniors in the country.
“Probably just the experience really [will be great], playing against some of the big boys and having a run with them,” he said.
The national championships will be held between April 9 and 17 at the Tasmanian Hockey Centre in New Town.
Tasmania will be coached by Vanessa McDonald, with assistance from Keegan Popowski.