The stage is set for the 2020 Summerset National Fours, with players from all areas of the country descending on the Bay of Plenty region in a bid to capture national honours and etch their names into bowls folklore for decades to follow.
With headquarters centred at the magnificent Bowls Mount Maunganui club, other clubs will also play a major part in the coming days, with play scheduled at Arawa, Matua, Tauranga South, Ngongotaha, Rotorua, Tauranga and Te Puke.
Taking to the green for section play, 92 men’s combinations and 58 women’s combinations will put their best foot forward, with all teams requiring a minimum of four wins from six starts to progress. In a minor tweak to the playing conditions, games will revert back to 18 ends and be subject to a time limit of three hours, as opposed to last year’s 21 end format.
Returning to defend their title, Taranaki’s Dean Elgar will once again team up with Bruce Hall, Neil Candy and Gavin Scrivener, last year defeating Mike Kernaghan in a thrilling finale. In a slight change of personnel, reigning national men’s singles champion Andrew Kelly will move up to skip in place of Kernaghan, with Dunedin senior representatives Keanu Darby, Andy McLean and Roger Stevens rounding out the four.
Record national title holder Gary Lawson will be hunting an unprecedented fourteenth title, this time joining Jamie Hill and Southland young guns Caleb Hope and Sheldon Bagrie-Howley – the latter skipping the runner-up side in 2018 against Ali Forsyth, Lawson, Shannon McIlroy and Justin Goodwin.
Other combinations looming large include McIlroy’s four of fellow Stoke clubmate Peter Hodson, Seamus Curtin and Tony Grantham, Southland representatives Craig Merrilees, Bryan Harvey, Brent Thompson and Craig Tinker, Central Otago’s Pat Houlahan, Howard O’Donnell, Roger O’Brien and Conor Muir and eight-time national champion Peter Belliss, joined by composite trio Keith Slight, Lance Tasker and Ray Wilson.
Meanwhile, the women’s field will see the return of former Blackjack Mandy Boyd, who along with her sister Angela will be aiming to pull off the three-peat, having previously won in 2018 and 2019.
The Boyd sisters will team up with mother and daughter combination Kirsten Edwards and Leigh Griffin, with victory seeing Mandy and Angela emulate the efforts of former New Zealand great Rhoda Ryan, who among her eight national titles, skipped the winning fours side in 1989, 1990 and 1991.
Intriguingly, a win to the Boyd four will also see Mandy move into a class of her own in the fours discipline, becoming the first player to win the women’s title on six occasions.
However, standing in their way will be a line-up of powerhouse combinations including Sandra Keith, Clare Hendra, Selina Goddard and Tayla Bruce, Sharon Sims, Natasha Russell, Bronwyn Stevens and Leanne Poulson, Naenae Classic victors Ashleigh Jeffcoat, Lisa White, Jessie Macaw and Kimberley Hemingway and Wellington composite Dale Rayner, Tanya Wheeler, Kaaren Guilford and Fiona McKinlay, to name only a few.
Other star-studded line-ups include local hopes Sue Hodges, Mary Campbell, Robyn Davies and Karen Clark, Wendy Jensen, Karen Kennedy, Lisa Prideaux and Ling Qu, Reen Stratford, Alison Rennie, Louise Fitness and Linda Ralph and Central Otago/North Harbour composite Margaret O’Connor, Christine Buchanan, Linley O’Callaghan and Anne Dorreen – both O’Connor and Buchanan recently playing for the New Zealand Over-60s team.
Adding to this year’s prestige, the Dominion Shield will make a long-awaited return, with the winning men’s side awarded the shield – first awarded in 1888 to the team of D Mackie, W Carswell, J Oughton and R Churton, of the Taieri club in Dunedin.
The women’s trophy will see the inaugural reveal of the women’s Summerset National Fours Champion Shield – a native timber base hand carved to represent the winning side. This year’s instalment of the women’s event marks 70 years, and the shield, much like the men’s Dominion Shield, will now take pride of place at the event for many more years to follow.
The Summerset National Fours will officially get underway on Thursday, February 27, with the finals scheduled to take place on Monday, March 2.
To keep up to date with all the results as they come to hand, stay tuned to the Bowls New Zealand Facebook page.
by Sam Morton