A thrilling tie-break win on the TV rink on day three sadly won’t be enough to keep the New Zealand Blackjacks from joining the stands for Finals Night in the BPL07, with two wins from four leaving them short on points to make the playoffs.
Following a brief commemorative ANZAC ceremony to start the night proceedings, all teams, officials and spectators stood tall as both the Australian and New Zealand national anthems played through the state of the art Naenae bowls complex in Wellington, amongst a special rendition of The Last Post.
Persevering with their tactics after Tuesday night’s impressive win opposite the Perth Suns, Blackjacks coach Sharon Sims opted to stay with the tried and tested formula with Jo Edwards skipping and both Shannon McIlroy and Mike Nagy alternating off the front - though came unstuck in their opening rounds on day three, falling to the hands of the Sydney Lions and Gold Coast Hawks in straight sets, dealing their campaign hopes a heavy blow.
A loss to the Lions saw the New Zealand side rally, as their tournament hung by a thread heading into a must-win encounter opposite the Hawks. Despite their best efforts and some solid play from all three players, the blistering hot form from dual Commonwealth silver medalist Aron Sherriff clearly burnt them on several occasions, with the consistency of fellow Jackaroo Nathan Rice proving a tough obstacle to counter, alongside former Australian representative Lynsey Clarke.
An impressive bounce back win opposite last year’s runner-up franchise Illawarra Gorillas gave the Blackjacks a glimmer of hope heading into the evening encounter, with the Lions incurring a loss to keep the faintest of playoff hopes alive - though the Blackjacks would always be heavily reliant on results going their way in other fixtures - a belief cut short after the Murray Steamers clocked up their seventh win of the tournament, defeating the Perth Suns in an entertaining tie-break finish in Wednesday night’s final fixture.
Other matches on the live televised rink on day three saw the table-topping Brisbane Pirates go down to the buoyant Hawks in a tie-break thriller, with the win rounding out a perfect four wins from as many starts for the Gold Coast franchise to push them into second place.
Another superb performance from the Gorillas saw six-time World Indoor champion Jeremy Henry, aptly supported by reigning world U25 singles champion Aaron Teys and Scottish international Kay Moran, turn it on in style as they dealt a straight sets loss to the Lions in scintillating style - picking up an eight off their Power Play in set two and forcing the Lions to search for a count of four on their own Power Play - albeit to no avail.
The final match-up of the day saw the Suns fall to the might of the Steamers, with Broadbeach superstar Ryan Bester displaying world class form, alongside Australian champion Ellen Ryan and Moama icon Michael Walker - as they put paid to the Sun’s determined trio of John Slavich, Helen Morss and Clive Adams on a winner-takes all tie break, with Walker coming off the bench cold to play the match-winning bowl in fine style.
With two final section rounds to be held on day four, the Blackjacks will undoubtedly be playing for pride as they continue to entertain the crowds and are left ruing a cruel and winless start to their campaign, a statistic that has come back to haunt them in the later rounds of the competition.
The finals format on Thursday evening will see the top two teams play a straight semi-final fixture, while the third and fourth placed franchises will go head-to-head in an elimination final, with the winner earning a second opportunity to play for a position in the final as they take on the loser of the opening semi-final showdown.
The tournament will then conclude with the grand finale, as the two best performed teams of the competition bid for BPL07 glory and a slice of the $100,000 prize purse.