By Michael Burgess
Leighton Shanks has decades of Bowls ahead of him, but it’s unlikely he will experience many tournaments as dramatic as the 2021 Burton Cup Classic Fours.
The 21-year-old Shanks was part of Queenie Takurua’s team that snatched a remarkable victory at the popular East Coast tournament.
Going into the final round, the odds were stacked against Takurua’s four, which also featured Adrienne Smiler and Mary Taingahue.
There was no room for error, as they had to win both of their remaining pairs matches, while also hoping that the leading team dropped their two games.
To add spice to the equation, the frontrunners were skipped by Leighton’s sister Lucy, and the siblings faced each other in the penultimate game.
“We are pretty close,” says Leighton,. “We played indoor bowls most of our life, until we switched to outdoor. It was good fun - there were a lot of words exchanged.”
The younger combination started well but then fell away, as Adrienne Smiler and Shanks found their rhythm to take the game 13-10.
Takurua and Taingahue also won their pairs contest, before waiting on final results from further down the rink. They received good news, as the other pair in the Shanks four had dropped their match, giving the Burton Cup to Takurua’s team by a solitary point.
“It was pretty amazing,” said Shanks. “We had to win both our games and they had to lose twice. We were very lucky in the last round, definitely.”
Shanks, who belongs to the Kahutia club, was a late addition to the Takurua four.
“Queenie asked me because they needed a male player,” said Shanks. “It was the first time I had played with any of them.”
The classic format, which has been popular since it was introduced in 2018, was a challenge.
“It’s quite unique to have fours, triples, pairs and singles all in the same event,” said Shanks. “I wasn’t really sure how to approach it but we were pretty relaxed. There wasn’t any pressure.”
After dropping two games on the first day, they had few expectations for the rest of the tournament.
“We didn’t think we would be in contention,” said Shanks. “So we just wanted to have fun and enjoy our day. As it turned out they were the only two games we lost all weekend.”
It was a memorable weekend for Shanks, who enjoyed both the format and the camaraderie of his team.
“It was a real challenge and broke up the monotony of just playing one [discipline] or just leading,” says Shanks. “And you can learn a lot from Queenie and such experienced players.”
Lifting the Burton Cup, which was first contested in 1910, was particularly special for Shanks, after a three-year hiatus from bowls, when he moved away to Hamilton to study.
Shanks returned to Gisborne last year and got back into the sport this season.
“Physically it was fine,” says Shanks. “My body felt like it had never left. But technically it was a struggle. It was quite shaky and took a while to find my rhythm again.”
But consistent practice paid off, sometimes up to four or five times a week, which helped Shanks achieve some impressive results this summer. As well as the Burton Cup, he also won the men’s pairs (alongside Paul Harrison) at the highly competitive Octagonal Bowls tournament on the Kapiti Coast in late February.
“I want to try and keep going over winter,” says Shanks, “though it is a bit hard to find indoor greens down here.”
Shanks plans to enter the national singles and pairs for the first time next season and eyes a long future in the sport.
“I know a lot of people don’t consider bowls to be a sport, especially physically,” says Shanks. “But it’s the mental side for me. I feel like it is about 70 per cent mental and I enjoy thinking about the game and the strategy.”
Gisborne Bowling Club president said the tournament was an “outstanding success”. It attracted a full field of 16 teams and was played in perfect weather.
“People find the format really stimulating,” says Sheriff. “You’ve got to be a good team to win it.”
By Michael Burgess