Headlined by a host of former world champions, the New Zealand selectors have officially named their Blackjacks side to contest the 2020 World Bowls Championships on the Gold Coast later this year.
As 36 nations take to the Broadbeach, Helensvale and Musgrave Hill greens from May 26 to June 7, the Blackjacks will feature a wealth of experience among their ranks, with three debutants also set to ply their trade on the sport’s biggest stage.
Building on a stunning performance at the Asia Pacific Championships in 2019, national selectors Peter Belliss, Marlene Castle and Phil Skoglund Jr have observed the Multi Nations and two Trans Tasman Test Series – before firming their final five men and five women to chase gold in the months to follow.
Within the team, six of the 10 players have all previously tasted world championship success, while Tayla Bruce, Debbie White and Andrew Kelly get set to make their world bowls’ debut.
Proving a winning combination with an unbeaten 10-game streak at the Asia Pacific Championships, Lawson and McIlroy will unsurprisingly team up in the men’s pairs, with Lawson no doubt hoping to emulate his last appearance at World Bowls in 2008 – winning gold with Russell Meyer in the pairs, and skipping Meyer, Richard Girvan and Andrew Todd to gold in the men’s fours.
McIlroy will also have fond memories on the world bowls stage, last time defeating Canada’s Ryan Bester to claim the world singles title in Christchurch in 2016, before going on to secure the World Champion of Champion Singles title just a matter of months later.
In the men’s fours, Ali Forsyth and Mike Kernaghan retain their place in the gold-medal winning team from 2016, this time joined by Lawson at three and Kelly off the front.
Forsyth, Kernaghan and Kelly will also combine in the men’s triples, with both Forsyth and Kelly having recently won gold in the Multi Nations triples, alongside Chris Le Lievre – on that occasion going through the campaign unbeaten.
Meanwhile, the women’s singles will see world number one Jo Edwards hunt the one title that has seemingly proved elusive throughout her career, with Edwards, a five-time indoor champion, carrying some strong form into the competition having won back to back Commonwealth gold medals in the same discipline in 2014 and 2018.
Edwards, who will be featuring in her fifth world bowls contest, will then team up with debutant Tayla Bruce in the women’s pairs, both Edwards and Bruce showing plenty of promise in recent appearances together, while Bruce will join the women’s fours as lead.
Stamping her mark as an international skip and reflecting her double national title haul in January, Katelyn Inch will be charged with skipping the women’s fours and triples respectively, with the vastly experienced Val Smith providing steady influence at three. Playing off the front in the triples and two in the four is the in-form Debbie White, last year showing her mettle on the international stage, narrowly losing the World Champion of Champion Singles to Australia in a gripping finale.
White, perhaps the least familiar name within the side, has previously played in the New Zealand Development set-up in a Trans Tasman encounter, though will relish the opportunity to show her talents to the world as she follows in her mother’s footsteps as a world bowls international.
Bowls New Zealand convener of selectors Phil Skoglund Jr, speaking on behalf of the selection panel, congratulated those selected and said the selectors were confident the 10-strong side will produce a promising medal haul.
“Picking our world bowls side was a very difficult assignment, but we’ve always said we will reward performance and pick those players that have been hitting form and getting the runs on the board in the last 12-24 months. We’ve certainly done that and we’re really happy with the team we’ve got to represent our country, and we know all of those selected will really put the time and effort in to give themselves the strongest possible chance heading in to these championships,” Skoglund Jr said.
“This is a huge event for Bowls New Zealand, we’re very conscious that we need to get results at this level and we’re highly confident we have the right group to achieve this.”
Having spent many weeks competing on the Gold Coast in recent international appearances, Skoglund Jr says the team will be well accustomed to all conditions, and not be over-awed by changing surfaces.
“There will be no excuses, all 10 players know exactly what to expect at any given time and we’re looking forward to it,” he said.
Commenting on those who were unsuccessful on this occasion, including recent selections Le Lievre, Selina Smith, Kirsten Edwards and Wendy Jensen, Skoglund Jr encouraged them to continue performing at the highest level and reminded aspiring players, “there’s plenty of opportunities out there” for all members of the high performance squad going forward.
“This is just one event, I know there will be disappointment and that’s understandable, but it’s important they continue to push on and put their hand up for future selections. They are all still a big part of the picture and we want them to remain in the frame with consistent success going forward.”
The Blackjacks will next get together for a pre-tournament camp in April prior to departing for the World Champs in May.
The New Zealand 2020 World Bowls team is:
(Tayla Bruce (Burnside, Canterbury), Jo Edwards (Enoggera, AUS/United, Nelson), Katelyn Inch (Broadbeach, AUS/Oxford, Canterbury), Val Smith (Merrylands, AUS/United, Nelson), Debbie White (Hinuera, Waikato)
Singles: Jo Edwards
Pairs: Jo Edwards (skip), Tayla Bruce (lead)
Triples: Katelyn Inch (skip), Val Smith (two), Debbie White (lead)
Fours: Katelyn Inch (skip), Val Smith (two), Debbie White (two), Tayla Bruce (lead)
(Ali Forsyth (Clayton, AUS/,Nelson, Nelson) Andrew Kelly (Canterbury B.C, Canterbury), Mike Kernaghan (North East Valley, Dunedin), Gary Lawson (Elmwood Park, Canterbury), Shannon McIlroy (Stoke, Nelson))
Singles: Shannon McIlroy
Pairs: Gary Lawson (skip), Shannon McIlroy (lead)
Triples: Ali Forsyth (skip), Mike Kernaghan (two), Andrew Kelly (lead)
Fours: Ali Forsyth (skip), Gary Lawson (three), Mike Kernaghan (two), Andrew Kelly (lead)
*For more information, image requests or to set up player/selector interviews, please contact Bowls New Zealand High Performance Manager Kaushik Patel (021 966 344) and/or Commercial Manager Erin Nurkka, (021 835 191).