It was a double celebration for the Auckland pairings of Olivia Bloomfield and Paris Baker, and Leif Selby and James Williams – both taking out the National Champion of Champion Pairs silverware in fine style at the Hopes Dunedin Lawn Bowls Stadium.
Hosted on the blue carpet, aptly named the “Big Blue”, more than 40 of the country’s form combinations arrived in the deep South, eyeing a national title and attempting to close out their strong run of form in the lead up to qualifying.
In the men’s action, all eyes were on Selby, a former World Singles Champion and Australian bowls icon, now living in Waiheke Island and plying his trade for the Carlton Cornwall Club.
By his own admission, Selby, who officially retired from international bowls in 2012, is no longer as active in the sport as he once has been, though a win in Dunedin with clubmate James Williams may have sparked his interest and rekindled the passion for top level bowls.
“It’s been a privilege to play with James, I’ve really enjoyed it and I’m so proud of the boy. He has played really well throughout the whole event, from back at club level through to here and it’s been good to get a win,” Selby smiled.
“I’ve met a lot of people whilst I’ve been here over the last couple of days and that’s a big part of the sport. I’m starting to really enjoy this again, and it’s been a long time between drinks. (But) when you start to enjoy what you’re doing, you might see a bit more of me.”
The final saw Selby and Williams dominate proceedings early on, both piling the pressure on with immaculate draw play, collecting back to back fives and pushing out to a comfortable 12-2 lead opposite the well-performed Motueka duo of Albert Anderson and Sam Wood.
Throughout the event, Selby’s class was clear to see and despite not playing many bowls since arriving on New Zealand soil, both Selby and Williams proved a force to be reckoned with, remaining the only side unbeaten.
In the women’s action, it was an equally impressive start for New Lynn’s Bloomfield and Baker, with the Auckland duo racing out to a 7-0 lead against the formidable North East Valley pairing of Sarah Scott and Bronwyn Stevens, both Scott and Stevens recently named in the New Zealand High Performance Squad looking ahead to the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
A steady display off the front saw Baker set the tone in the opening ends, with Bloomfield adding to the count and extending their lead through to 15-5. Baker, who claimed the World U25 Singles crown in 2019 for Tonga, proved impressive throughout, and despite the best collective efforts by Scott and Stevens, the New Lynn side ran out victors 16-8.
Speaking shortly after the win, Bloomfield credited the New Lynn supporters and heaped praise on her young lead.
“Mate, I’m so proud of that girl, no matter what – she’s bloody good . . . yeah, I’m really proud of that Tongan Princess,” Bloomfield beamed.
“It means a lot to us . . . we have come a long way and it’s been tough. We just came away with it today, and we did it for all our nutcases back home, that one is for you guys.”
In other post-section action, the Central Otago pairing of Bill Clements and Trevor Ludlow and Northland hopefuls Daniel and David Hood were beaten semi-finalists, while Wellington’s Lisa White and Lil Renata and Central Otago representatives Linley O’Callaghan and Lyn Somerville finished third equal in the women’s event. It was a second consecutive bronze for O’Callaghan, also featuring on the wrong side of the ledger in the women’s singles semi-final opposite eventual victor Val Smith last week.
Other qualifiers included Steve Beel (Nicholas Tomsett), Cary and Warrick Pinker, Grant Sargison (Mark Kilmister), while Adrienne Tilyard (Jane Larsen), Lynda Milne (Nicola Heffer), Sandra Keith (Raelene Heads) and Dianne Patterson (Lesley Bourke), all made the cut in the women’s field.
As the National Champion of Champion month continues, all eyes will now turn to the triples as Bowls Hastings look to host the country’s best come Friday.