When 156 teams commence the Taranaki men’s open fours on January 15 many will be doing so with the fundamental desire of enjoying themselves.
While the Taranaki event ranks as one of the most prestigious on the national calendar – and again this year past NZ reps Dan Delany and Peter Belliss return – the majority of the participants are realistic about their chances of winning. Instead, the lure of renewing old friendships and forging new ones, along of course with the thrill of qualifying and the odd upset, is what keeps the masses amazed.
Societal changes mean that the traditional aspects of so many sports have and are falling by the wayside. But the Taranaki example, where no changes to the format have occurred in over 70 years, illustrates that there is still a core of bowlers out there that like 25 ends of fours. The last change reverted post section play to sudden death after the two-life system had resulted in the 1942 final between Roy Boulton (father of Alan) and Son Maslin (with the famed Mort Squire at No3) in three matches. Boulton took Maslin’s first life, the second match was drawn, before Maslin took the honours.
“We can not rule out changes in the future,” Bowls Taranaki chairman, Brien Bennett QSM said. “But at the moment, our players are happy. Even though our numbers are well down on the halcyon years, relative to membership around the country, it remains most popular.”
Taranaki reached its high point of 580 teams in 1980 but the numbers have steadily declined since, although the 113th edition this year sees two more teams than 2017. As a comparison, the national men’s fours reached its peak in 1977 with 812 sides; this year, 78 took part in Dunedin.
The 156 teams are made up of eight from Australia, 70 from around the north island, three from the south island and 75 from the host province.
Section play runs from Monday to Thursday with teams playing eight games during that time. A tough qualifying criteria requiring a minimum of six wins creates a good deal of satisfaction for those teams advancing to Friday’s post section. The final is scheduled for Sunday afternoon.
Ces Bell (Taradale) was the 2017 winner, but he is not returning this time. However, the other place-getters from last season are – Delany (runner-up), Belliss and Wanganui East’s Cary Pinker (equal third). All three are expected to feature again.
A number of well-pointed teams from the northern part of the country will come to Taranaki with expectations including those skipped by Adam Wishnoski (New Lynn), Peter Dorreen (Far North RSA), David Hood (Kerikeri) and Ian Coombe (Mairangi Bay).
1987 Dominion pairs winner Peter Clark (Tauranga South) returns, as does Bernie Martellettli (Te Puke), Paul Bartosh (Morrinsville RSA), Cliff Mitchell-Burnard (Te Kuiti) and the 2014 champion, Stu Settle (Hinuera).
Other likely-looking visiting teams include Ian Mason (Havelock North), 2006 Dominion pairs winner Rex Holmes (Paraparaumu Beach), 2016 champion Brian Little (Palmerston North), Wellington gold star holders Brent Stubbins (Johnsonville) and Ross Thorn (Naenae), along with Howard Ivory (Wilton), who’s popular side returns after a number of years absence.
The majority of locals will consider the week a success if they qualify. But some others will have higher expectations, including Craig Johns and Gary Lilley (both West End), Mark Anderson (Alton), Russell Hardy (Tower) and Darren Goodin (Paritutu), all past winners. On paper, Johns’ team appears the strongest, but as has been the case for the last 112 years, the game is played on the green, not on paper.
Stay tuned for updates.