The Blackjacks are making a long-awaited return to international action at the Asia Pacific Championships on the Gold Coast, starting today (Tuesday, June 18).
And they have a lofty medal target.
Fourteen months since returning with just two medals (one of which was in the open para-sport triples) from the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, the New Zealand bowls team is chasing five medals from eight events at this month’s 19-nation tournament.
“It’s quite crazy really. Five medals, two of which must be gold,” Bowls New Zealand high performance manager Kaushik Patel said.
“It’s a big target, especially when you’re on Australian soil.
“I think the five medals shouldn’t be an issue, [but] the two golds will be hard work.”
Last year’s underwhelming Commonwealth Games campaign resulted in High Performance Sport New Zealand cutting Bowls NZ’s funding and the Blackjacks are keen to make amends.
“Absolutely, especially [for] the men,” Patel said.
“It hurts. It not only hurts the guys who were there last year, but these guys who are coming in. They want to put things right as well.”
Gary Lawson headlines the returnees, with the double world champion back in the New Zealand team after a decade away.
Patel says he’s made a big impact.
“Gary Lawson is a leader and when you talk about tacticians and technicians they don’t come any better than him.
“He’s just fitted in really well. He’s not out there just to compete, he’s out there to win and he drags the others along with him.”
Lawson will partner reigning world singles champion Shannon McIlroy in the men’s pairs this week, with games against China, Samoa and the Philippines on the opening day of section play at the Broadbeach Bowls Club.
Jamie Hill will also make his first appearance for New Zealand in 10 years today (Tuesday) when he joins lead Mike Kernaghan and skip Ali Forsyth in the men’s triples.
They will face Thailand, Hong Kong and Macao in their opening three games, also at Broadbeach.
The New Zealand women are opening their campaign at Club Helensvale, with defending Commonwealth Games champion Jo Edwards facing opposition from Hong Kong, Samoa and India in the women’s singles.
Val Smith will skip the women’s four, also featuring Kirsten Edwards, Katelyn Inch and Wendy Jensen, which will play Niue, Singapore and India in its opening three games.
A further two days of section play will follow, before the quarter-finals and semi-finals on Friday and the medal matches on Saturday.
The second week of competition will feature the women’s pairs and triples and men’s singles and fours.