A host of past and present Blackjacks are attempting to lead their clubs to national honours in Canterbury this week.
New Zealand’s most capped player Jo Edwards, 14-time national open title-holder Gary Lawson and reigning world singles champion Shannon McIlroy are amongst those taking part in the National Interclub Sevens hosted by the Burnside Bowling Club, starting tomorrow (Thursday, April 15).
Edwards leads the Nelson side, which also features past world champion Val Smith and Colleen Earl, who all helped their province win the national intercentre title in Wellington last month.
Edwards and Earl also won the national interclub title in 2015 with United.
Hinuera loom as Nelson’s biggest rivals in section play.
The Waikato representatives won the national interclub title in 2017 and four of that side return, including Blackjacks squad member Debbie White, who is listed to play Edwards in the singles.
Past and present internationals Wendy Jensen and Selina Smith are representing Takapuna (North Harbour), who are in a difficult section with 2014 champions Carlton Cornwall (Auckland) and Dunedin’s North East Valley, featuring emerging squad member Bronwyn Stevens.
Fellow emerging talent Leeane Poulson is also set to play the singles for Papakura (Counties-Manukau) in section one, which features the hometown favourites Canterbury 2017. And Naenae (Wellington) can call on former Blackjack Lisa White in section two.
Lawson and McIlroy have both won the men’s national interclub title before.
Lawson was part of the champion Eastbourne sides in 2009, 2016 and 2018 and has also won the title with Hornby Domain and Victoria, while McIlroy is also a three-time winner with Stoke.
This year Lawson is representing a powerhouse Elmwood Park (Canterbury) team, which includes newly crowned national pairs champion Lance Pascoe and fellow Bowls3Five regulars Kelvin Scott and Nathan Glasson.
McIlroy, who is taking a break from international bowls, will again represent
Stoke (Nelson), who also boast Pete Hodson and Jimmy Pugh as members.
Stoke are in the same section as Pt Chevalier (Auckland) and Hinuera (Waikato), who are one of the few clubs to qualify for both the men’s and women’s competitions.
North East Valley is one of the other clubs seeking both interclub titles.
The Dunedin representatives have brought a strong men’s side north to Christchurch, spearheaded by veteran Blackjack Mike Kernaghan, but also including Keanu Darby, Roger Stevens and Terry Scott.
North East Valley, who won the national interclub title in 2011, are in arguably the toughest section alongside Stokes Valley (Wellington), 2006 champions Manurewa (Counties-Manukau) and 2014 winners Alexandra (Central Otago).
While Stokes Valley haven’t won the silverware previously, the team features Bowls3Five champions Seamus Curtin, Finbar McGuigan and Caleb Hope as well as the experienced Mike Carroll, who won four national interclub titles with Eastbourne.
However the team to beat may in section one, which is headlined by Gore.
The Gore side features four members of the Southland team that broke through for an historic victory at the national intercentre championships in Wellington last month.
Craig Merrilees, who beat Andrew Kelly, Seamus Curtin and Jamie Hill in singles play at Wilton, will be hoping to carry on his spectacular form in the discipline, while emerging squad member Sheldon Bagrie-Howley will skip the Gore pair.
Qualifying in five of the eight sections gets underway at midday tomorrow (Thursday, April 15), with the remainder to start on Friday.
The top two clubs from each section will qualify for the quarter-finals, which will take place on Saturday afternoon, with the semi-finals and finals to follow on Sunday at Burnside.
A quarter-final, semi-final and final will be streamed live on Sky Sport Next.