Kookaburras to face crucial crossroads

By AAP

AUSTRALIAN men's coach Barry Dancer says the next fortnight will be crucial for the Kookaburra's plans to claim gold at both the 2005 Champions Trophy and 2006 Commonwealth Games. An 18-player Australian squad, featuring 11 Olympic gold medallists, touched down in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Sunday night for the seven-nation Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. Starting Thursday, the invitational tournament will be Australia's first international outing since claiming gold in Athens. It will also be the Kookaburras' first engagement of a 10-month schedule culminating with the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne next March. But while the Kookaburras enjoyed a steady build-up to Athens last year, the road to Melbourne is much more uneven. The Kookaburras will spend little more than eight weeks together between now and the Champions Trophy in December ? which is why Dancer views the next two weeks in Malaysia as vital to his side's long-term preparations. "We're relying very much on this tournament to actually forge greater team cohesion," Ipswich product Dancer said. "It will be important for us to start well and use this as a stepping stone to our next tour to Europe in August. "I think we can be successful and win the tournament. It's not absolutely crucial we do, but with the group of players we're taking, I think we should go in as favourites."