The Tower New Zealand Blackjacks have endured a tough opening day at the Bowls Premier League 07, falling to four losses from as many starts opposite some of the world’s greatest bowlers.
Hosted at the magnificent Naenae bowls complex in Lower Hutt, Wellington, international powerhouse bowlers including Alex Marshall, Aaron Wilson, Jeremy Henry, three-time BPL winner Aron Sherriff and other household names have converged to take the greens for their respective franchises, who along with the Blackjacks, comprises the Brisbane Pirates, Illawarra Gorillas, Perth Suns, Murray Steamers, Sydney Lions, Gold Coast Hawks and the animated Melbourne Roys.
The innovative BPL07 format sees each match consisting of two five-end sets, with a one-end tie break played to force a winner through if required. Although the game format is standard pairs, a team coach also has a substitute player to call on, with rules stating the sub must play at least nine bowls per game.
Adding to the hype, a team “Power Play ” can be used by either team once during each set, meaning double points are tallied if the nominated team is successful in scoring - triggering opportunities to stage large deficit comebacks.
With all eyes on out of season transfer seeing Sherriff, better known as Omar, shifting to the Gold Coast and joining Club Helensvale - the relocation marked a change of territory with the Lions’ loss becoming the Hawk’s gain as arguably one of the best bowlers in the competition teamed up with fellow Jackaroo Nathan Rice and former Jackaroo captain Lynsey Clarke in a bid to recapture the form that saw him named the BPL06 Most Valuable Player.
Countering the transfer, the Lions’ recalled Ben Twist to the mix, who missed the last BPL due to international duties, instead replaced by the talented Cabramatta star Cory Wedlock - who along with Twist has filled the void to join Australia’s most capped bowler Karen Murphy as they search for an unprecedented fourth-peat.
Day one’s action saw the Brisbane Pirates storm out of the blocks, securing a full house of victories - none more so impressive than their live TV performance opposite the Melbourne Roys - putting paid to recently crowned Commonwealth Games men’s singles champion Aaron Wilson and his equally enigmatic team mate Barrie Lester and dual Commonwealth Games Gold medallist Carla Krizanic in straight sets.
Showing exactly why he is the world’s best, Marshall, along with Cottrell and BPL debutant Michael Breen, didn’t miss a beat as they chalked wins over the Steamers, Blackjacks, Lions and Roys to round out a perfect start to their campaign - coached by former New Zealand coach Dave Edwards, now based at Brisbane’s Pine Rivers club.
Demonstrating the cruel reality of a cut-throat format, finishing up on the wrong end of two tie-breakers and two losses means the Blackjacks, who boast reigning world champion Shannon McIlroy, Commonwealth Games singles champion Jo Edwards and tournament debutant Mike Nagy, remain anchored to the foot of the table - though in a 14-round format, days two and three will prove crucial as the Kiwis look to push themselves back in to playoffs contention with some firm successive victories moving forward.
In other results, the Steamers’ side skipped by Canadian international Ryan Bester has enjoyed two wins from four, as have all other franchises including the Roys, Illawarra Gorillas, Perth Suns, Sydney Lions and Gold Coast Hawks - who impressed in the final TV game on day one, dispatching the Suns in straight sets.
With all to play for heading in to day two, teams will tackle a further three rounds during the day’s action, prior to the fourth televised round on Sky Sport 4 from 6pm, NZT, and Fox Sport Australia from 4pm AEST.