Winners: Reagan Larkin, Bobby Johnson, Paul Nichols (all Dunedin) and Darren Broome (Gore)
When Mario Sopp heard there was a late spot available at the Taieri 7000, he jumped at it.
The Brighton bowler quickly assembled a four – even roping in his father in law to play – to take part in the popular 32-team event.
They were the last combination to enter, but the scratch team performed well above expectations. They surprised plenty by qualifying for the plate round of post section play, then raised more eyebrows by reaching the final.
“We had never played together before as a team so it was pretty good for us,” says Sopp. “On the first day we had two wins and three losses, but two of those [defeats] were on the last end. On the second day we lifted and won both of our games.”
His team (Graham Cook, Paul Craik and David Alexander) progressed through the last eight, then won their semi-final, but the final was a bridge too far.
“It was a tough game,” says Sopp. “The weather had been great, but it was windy by then, lots of wind blowing. And the opposition were stronger than us.”
Ken McConnell’s team (Howie O’Donnell, Warren Tisdall and Connor Muir) prevailed 12-5 in the decider.
But Sopp and his team enjoyed the “wonderful event”, with great camaraderie, good atmosphere and plenty of delicious food.
He was quick to tap up event organiser Rob Gibson about next year.
“I asked him, so is it in concrete that we will be invited next year,” laughs Sopp. “He assured me yes, we would definitely be back.”
Sopp had played the event in 2007, when was based at Kaitangata bowling club near Balclutha.
But work commitments took him to Bluff, then back to Dunedin and he lost touch with old teammates.
“I never got back to the tournament,” says Sopp. “If you miss one year another team gets your spot, and they have preference for the following year.”
But in late September he received a phone call from a friend, who had been a regular at the Taieri 7000 but wasn’t planning to compete this year.
Sopp immediately got on the phone to Gibson.
“He said he would get back to me by the end of the week,” says Sopp. “He was waiting to hear from one pending entry.”
Once Sopp got the green light, he had to assemble a team.
“I called my father in law down in Bluff and he was keen,” says Sopp. “Then I had to find a few more guys.”
He canvassed fellow members at the Brighton club, with affirmative answers from Cook and Craik.
‘We are a small club (33 members) but a close-knit group,” says Sopp. “We always want to perform well, want to win. It’s a nice environment and everyone gets along well.”
The Taieri event, now in its 23rd year, enjoyed another great edition.
“It was a huge success,” says Gibson. “We had a full field (32 teams) and we were fortunate with the weather. It was mid-20s, which is pretty unusual for Labour Weekend in Mosgiel.”
The field included teams from Christchurch, Ashburton, Timaru, South Otago, Central Otago, Invercargill and Bluff.
“The standard was really high,” says Gibson. “We had a huge number of past or present centre representatives.”
That made the achievements of Sopp and his team noteworthy.
“They were certainly underdogs,” says Gibson. “There were a lot of names around. And there were the last team to enter. I got a phone call from Mario asking, ‘is there a chance of being invited’. Once I got confirmation that another team wasn’t coming, I was able to tell him he was in.”
Gibson paid tribute to all the event sponsors, which include rally driver Emma Gilmour (Gilmour Motors), and the army of suppliers and volunteers.
The tournament was won by the four of Reagan Larkin, Bobby Johnson, Paul Nichols (all Dunedin) and Darren Broome (Gore). They beat Rod Fleming’s four (Fleming, Eion Willis, Ross Stevens and Tom Tamati) 14-2 in the final.
By Michael Burgess