Coaches and players of the participating teams gather for a picture ahead of the U-18 Men's Softball World Cup ©Twitter/@WSBC

New Zealand head into the World Softball Baseball Confederation (WSBC) Under 18 Men's Softball World Cup as one of the favourites to win the competition in front of a home crowd at Colquhoun Park in Palmerston North.

The hosts last won the competition, then named the Junior Men's Softball World Championships after winning back-to-back titles in 1985 and 1989 and have finished third in 2018 as well as runners-up in 2014 and 2016.

The World Cup will start on February 22 and conclude on March 1 with the medal matches.

World number one Japan will hold the momentum going into the tournament and have made the medals every year since 2001, winning their second title in 2016.

However, the reigning champions are their Pacific rivals, Australia who defeated Japan in the last final and currently sit fifth in the world. 

Argentina have a peculiar record in the competition, with the world number two making the medals only twice - but won both in 2014 and 2016.

They sit in Group A with Australia and world number four Canada along with the Czech Republic, South Africa and Singapore in what will likely be the tougher of the two groups.

“We’re really looking forward to showcasing our skills against the best teams in the world,” said South African coach Mamphiri Sethosa.

“The sport is definitely growing in South Africa.

“It is played over nine provinces, and is showcased more and more in school, which is fantastic for the development of the game.”

Japan and New Zealand are joined by the United States and Mexico in Group B who are ranked sixth and eighth respectively.

One of only two European sides in the World Cup, Denmark will also appear as well as Guatemala. 

Australian coach Adam Rindfleish added that the field is wide open this year with high quality teams throughout.

“There are no clear top running teams here, which is great for competition,” he said.

“It’s going to be exciting to play everybody.”