Decorated Blackjack Val Smith and local hope Robbie Bird have been crowned the National Champion of Champion Singles victors, following two closely fought finals at the Naenae Bowling Club.
Held on the 40m indoor carpet rinks, the event saw this season’s respective provincial champions across the country (22 men, 19 women) converge in Lower Hutt to stake their claim as the country’s best.
Continuing her sensational run of form since returning from across the ditch, Smith proved unstoppable on her way to the silverware, dispatching all opponents in clinical fashion.
A thrilling final played out between Smith and New Zealand Emerging squad member Leanne Poulsen, with the Counties Manukau representative previously showing her wares in an impressive semi-final display, defeating North Harbour’s Selina Smith 21-11.
The final proved a tale of two lengths, with Smith opting for the long-ends and Poulsen retreating to the short ends. A titanic battle played out with both players providing excellent touch and treating the crowd to a memorable final.
Commenting on the match, Smith praised her opponent, pointing out Poulsen played “very, very well”. “I knew I was going to be up for a tough match and it was certainly that,” Smith said.
“Once I got into a nice rhythm, it was easier to find the weight.”
Reflecting on her season’s efforts, Smith referred to feeling ‘’relaxed, comfortable and happy’’.
“I’m loving being back home. From the start of the season, a number of things have gone in my favour and I think COVID enabled me to relax and clear my mind, work out what made me happy and one of those was the decision to move back home,” Smith beamed.
“It’s so great to be back with friends, family and link up with Jo (Edwards) again at Nelson Bowling Club. I just feel really relaxed, comfortable and happy and I’ve been taking that mindset and feeling onto the green . . . it’s been great.”
In previous post-section fixtures, Selina defeated Hawkes Bay’s Natarsha Grimshaw (21-14), Poulsen accounted for Canterbury’s Donelda Scott (17-16) and Val equally beat the clock against Dunedin’s Malia Tavite (18-13). Across rinks, Val ended the gallant run of Central Otago’s Linley O’Callaghan in a one- sided semi-final fixture, 21-3.
Val was also awarded a second Silver Star, representing an incredible 10 national titles earned outside of the Summerset Open National Championships.
Meanwhile, Naenae’s local hero Robbie Bird took full advantage of the inside knowledge, clearly opting for long ends against Southland’s Sheldon Bagrie-Howley, who despite staging an entertaining fight-back, was unable to find a consistent answer for Bird’s strategy.
Speaking shortly after the win, Bird made no secret of his game plan.
“(Playing long ends) that was definitely my strategy. Everyone was working closely up the middle, so I dragged it out and knew I had somewhat of an advantage, (but) you still have to get the bowls there. I stuck to my game plan and it came off for me,” Bird said.
“Hopefully I have done the club and Wellington proud.”
In an attempt to counter Bird’s play, Bagrie-Howley took every opportunity to shorten the ends, however some misfortunate results saw Bird’s lead extend, at one point, the local hope moving to within two shots of glory at 19-10.
A strong determination saw Bagrie-Howley reduce the deficit to within three points, though with a rather quizzical moment playing out, Bird, who at 19 on the scoreboard chose not to play a final bowl on a potentially crucial end, may have been left to rue his decision.
“At the end of the day, I looked at it and thought it’s that close. If I won it on the measure, I didn’t have to play last bowl, but if I played it, there was a chance I could have tipped it out and gone a couple down, so I took the punt (chose not to play the bowl) and I got one from it,” he explained.
In other post-section fixtures, Bird defeated Auckland’s Tony Grantham and Bay of Plenty’s Dan Dickison, while Bagrie-Howley edged a thrilling one-point win against Hawkes Bay’s Dean Drummond. Other qualifiers included South Canterbury’s Adrian Robins and Manawatu’s Mark Noble.
Attention will now turn to the National Champion of Champion Pairs to be held in Dunedin from Friday 9 July to Sunday 11 July. Semi-final and Final will be televised live on Sky Sport Next.