Last year’s finalists in the men’s fours have bolstered their squads and again look the teams to beat at the 2019 Summerset Nationals, starting in Wellington tomorrow (March 1).
Despite the absences of veteran Blackjack Ali Forsyth and Justin Goodwin, record-setting 13-time national champion Gary Lawson has again assembled a formidable four.
Joining Lawson and Shannon McIlroy in the four that won last year are former Blackjacks representatives Jamie Hill and Tony Grantham.
Hill has recently been recalled to the national squad for the first time since being part of the New Zealand four, skipped by Lawson, which was accused of throwing an end at the 2009 Asia Pacific Championships.
“There was an opportunity for me to be back in there [a few years ago] but I decided not to because I had young kids…and I thought at the time I might just focus on that and play casually,” Hill said.
“But now that I’ve been playing more at a higher level over the last couple of years, I can see that I can still do it.”
And the opportunity to play again with Lawson and potentially add to the national fours titles he won in 2002 and 2003 was too hard to turn down.
“Being around someone like Gary Lawson gives you every opportunity to be best that you can be,” Hill said.
“He’s the ultimate player and person on the green. As far as I’m concerned he’s the yardstick for performance in New Zealand bowls.”
Fellow national squad member Jordan King has also been called into a fancied foursome.
The national men’s pairs champion has joined young guns Sheldon Bagrie-Howley, Taylor Horn, the men’s singles champion, and Jesse Russell, who finished runners-up in the fours last year.
King replaces Seamus Curtin, who’s been chosen to represent New Zealand at the World Cup in Australia next week.
“Just filling a spot to be honest,” King said.
“Was looking at putting my own team together but made a lot of sense to join up with the two boys from Mangere and Sheldon.”
All four players have come through the New Zealand development system, although Jordan King acknowledges he has a few years on his team-mates.
“I feel like the grandad of the team actually, being 32 and those boys being all pretty young.”
Horn has also recently been named to the national squad and they are keen to show they belong.
“We’ve got a point to prove to try and match it with those more seasoned veterans,” King said.
“They’re full of confidence and they’re all playing some pretty good marbles so I think if things go well…we’re as good a chance as any.”
The Sheldon Bagrie-Howley and Gary Lawson fours are in the second and sixth sections respectively in qualifying, with veterans Mike Kernaghan and Andrew Kelly another quartet to watch in section four.
There will also be interest in Simon Poppleton’s four in section three as it features SKY Sport commentator and proud Wellingtonian Grant Nisbett.
The Summerset National Fours are being staged across seven clubs (with a further four wet weather alternatives) in the Wellington region, with the finals to take place at the Naenae Bowling Club in Lower Hutt on either Monday (March 4) or Tuesday (March 5) next week.
Section play starts tomorrow (March 1) morning. Each four will play six matches and those who win at least four will advance to post-section play on Sunday, with the winners to be found on either Monday or Tuesday (weather permitting).