The title hopes of eight time national champion Peter Belliss and his defending quartet are left hanging by a thread, with the side requiring all three fixtures to go their way on Tuesday to keep their title defence alive following a mixed start to qualifying in Dunedin.
Belliss, teamed with Blackjack assistant coach Richard Girvan, Lance Tasker and the Australian based Michael Beesley, went down to Lance Pascoe and local hopes Joko Susilo, though managed to tally up a crucial win against the composite four skipped by Alan Reid to keep them in contention.
A further loss will see the team take a shock exit from the championships, with tough games looming as they go up against the unbeaten side skipped by Bruce McNish and the formidable Southland quartet spearheaded by the experienced Craig Merrilees, who recorded two wins from three starts.
In other action, few commentators would expect a star studded line-up of international superstars Ali Forsyth, Gary Lawson, Shannon McIlroy and Justin Goodwin to be troubled in section play, though a new wave of talent in the form of youngsters Bradley Down, Caleb Hope, Finbar McGuigan and Down’s father Graham came crashing through, claiming a memorable scalp as they defeated the top heavy unit 16-12 in the opening round.
Despite the early scare, Forsyth’s men rallied and closed out the following two fixtures to put themselves only two wins away from progressing to the finals action - though face stiff competition from the Jamie Hill skipped side in the opening round on day two as they look to progress.
Strong performances were noted from former multiple national fours champion Andrew Kelly, who this time has teamed with New Zealand development rep Richard Hocking and provincial mainstays Andy McLean of Dunedin, and Southland’s Roger Stevens, racking up three comfortable wins on day one, as did the sides skipped by Mike Kernaghan, Rob Ashton, Mike Solomon, Phil Cross, Regan Larkin, Sheldon Bagrie-Howley, Russell Dawe and Bridge Park’s Teo Turua.
Meanwhile, the women’s action saw no shock defeats with all leading sides getting the wins on the board early, chalking up an unbeaten streak to put themselves in the box seat heading into day two’s qualifying circuit. These teams include reigning champions Jo Edwards, Sarah Scott, Reen Stratford, Kelly McKerihen, Mandy Boyd and Ann Muir.
Former New Zealand rep Sandra Keith was quick to bounce back from her singles disappointment yesterday, enjoying two strong wins, ably assisted with the in-form Amy McIlroy, Selina Goddard and long time pal Serena Matthews, while the composite four skipped by Queenstown’s Margaret O’Connor will require all remaining games, following losses to Edwards and Muir in the opening rounds.
The final day of qualifying gets underway on Tuesday (Jan 2), with all event qualifiers gearing up to enter the cut-throat knock-out stages in the coming days as the BLK National Championships continues to entertain in fine style.