New face in trimmed down Blackjacks squad

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Clare Hendra in action at the 2020 Summerset National Fours in Mt Maunganui.

Bowls New Zealand has streamlined its national squads, following a review of its elite programme.

The high performance and talent development squads, which previously totaled more than 40 athletes, have been reduced significantly due to a decrease in high performance investment as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In their place a 13-strong Blackjacks squad has been named, alongside six emerging players, in preparation for the 2021 world bowls championships on the Gold Coast and with an eye to the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

The 10 bowlers originally selected to represent New Zealand at this year’s world championships, before they were postponed, have all been named in the Blackjacks squad.

It is headlined by two-time defending Commonwealth Games women’s singles champion Jo Edwards, who along with Val Smith, Shannon McIlroy, Ali Forsyth, Gary Lawson and Mike Kernaghan are past or present world champions.

Debbie White was the only uncapped player selected to the world championship team, after emerging from outside the high performance squad.

White, Tayla Bruce and Andrew Kelly had been picked to attend their first world champs, while Katelyn Inch had been named to her second World Bowls team after winning both the singles and pairs at the Summerset Nationals in Christchurch at the start of the year.

Recent internationals Selina Smith and Chris Le Lievre have also been named in the Blackjacks squad, as has uncapped Wellington player Clare Hendra.

Hendra has been promoted from the wider talent development group after breaking through to win her maiden national title in Mt Maunganui earlier this year, playing with Selina Smith and Bruce.

Rising star Seamus Curtin has kept his place in the high performance set-up. He’s been named in the emerging players squad alongside Sheldon Bagrie-Howley, Raymond Martin, Bronwyn Stevens, Lisa Prideaux and Leeane Poulson.

Poulson recently skipped Papakura to victory in the Bowls3Five interclub cup for junior bowlers with one to five years’ experience.

The national selectors will pick the world champs team from the new Blackjacks squad, but reserve the right to select from outside the 13 if deemed necessary.

The selectors may also add to either of the two squads when they see bowlers performing at key national events and/or showing a desire to be world class.

Blackjacks squad (Now-December 2021)

Women: Jo Edwards, Katelyn Inch, Val Smith, Tayla Bruce, Debbie White, Selina Smith and Clare Hendra.
Men: Shannon McIlroy, Ali Forsyth, Gary Lawson, Mike Kernaghan, Andrew Kelly and Chris Le Lievre.

Emerging players squad (Now-December 2021)
Women: Bronwyn Stevens, Lisa Prideaux and Leeane Poulson.
Men: Seamus Curtin, Sheldon Bagrie-Howley and Raymond Martin.