The province of Taranaki can take credit for sharing many of its sons and daughters throughout New Zealand stage. And indeed, throughout the world.
People like Peter Snell, Richard Faull, Peter Buck and Toss Woollaston were all born and bred in the ‘Naki. As was an overabundance of rugby talent: Carl Hayman, Kieran Crowley, Graham Mourie, and of course the seemingly never-ending supply of Barretts feeding the All Blacks.
It’s the same in our bowls community. Many great bowlers have emerged from Taranaki: Brian Baldwin; John Murtagh; Val McEldowney; and Pearl Dymond to name but a very, very few.
And a new name has emerged who looks set to add to that richness of bowling talent from Taranaki: Briar Atkinson. And so refreshing has her emergence been, that she has been named Bowls New Zealand’s Emerging Player of the Year in 2023.
At 19 years old, Briar already has a centre Gold Star. She’s probably the youngest Gold Star holder ever in the Taranaki Centre. Perhaps the youngest in any centre in New Zealand ever.
Playing out of the Paritutu Bowling Club in New Plymouth, Briar has also put her hand up on the national scene this last season.
In the Champion of Champion Singles in Hastings in July, beating Nicole Toomey, a dual bronze medallist from last year’s Commonwealth Games, 21-13 in the final. She was just the third Taranaki woman to win the women’s title (Grace Gillespie 1961, Pearl Dymond 1969).
In the Digicel Oceania Challenge at Blockhouse Bay in Auckland earlier this year, Briar and teammate Caitlin Thomson played in the New Zealand Under 26 team and won the Pairs. Briar also represented the Under 26’s in the Singles, but came up against a tougher draw which saw her out of the medals.
It’s a real treat for the bowls community to enjoy the emergence of such a brilliant young woman.
“She’s a young woman with huge talent,” says Bowls New Zealand’s Head Coach, Mike Kernaghan. “And she’s well coached by Maurice Symes.”
“She’s very receptive, she listens well and she takes on board new ideas. She’s a real open book. And what’s really great, she’s keen as mustard.”
Briar was introduced to the game by her mum, Tina Atkinson-Watt, who’s also a dab hand at the gentile game at Paritutu, and plays with Briar when things get serious. These days, the teenage Briar has even been handed over the skips mantle.
Briar’s been described as a Blackjack-in-waiting. And despite the talent in the current Women’s Blackjacks, she’s already lining up to be selected.
There’s plenty of time. When you’re only 19, you’ve got a heck of a lot of bowling ahead of you to show your mettle.
She’s already won Taranaki’s Women’s Player of the Year in 2023.
And with all these accolades, she has forced the hand of the selection panel to be awarded the Bowls New Zealand Women’s Emerging Player of the Year.