Marlborough lawn bowler Maurice Symes is not a man to shirk a challenge. So, when Bowls Fiji contacted him in December to take up a role as high-performance coach in the island nation, he quickly grasped the opportunity.
The 72-year-old former New Zealand rep and vastly-experienced coach has signed a two-year contract with Bowls Fiji & the Fijian government, who are funding the role in the region, a deal that will allow him to continue in his role as greenkeeper and bar manager at the Blenheim Bowling Club and play rep bowls for Marlborough if selected.
He says the Fijian offer came out of the blue and admits he was somewhat apprehensive at first.
“Because I did not know any of the bowlers in Fiji I was skeptical about what I could be facing, but after having been over there for eight days I now know they have got players that would be equal to most [leading] bowlers in New Zealand.
“So, if I can get the balance of the squad up to that sort of level I think they will be very competitive at the Asia Pacific Games. I will be surprised if they don’t win gold medals.”
Fiji formerly employed a professional coach from Australia, but Symes suggested there was still plenty of work to be done on the basics of the game. “I intend to do individual coaching, including filming and working one-on-one with the bowlers.
“I am really excited about the challenge … I’m attending a fundraising dinner with the Fijian Prime Minister when I go back there in February and intend explaining what my plans are and where we are going as a team.
“I plan to regularly keep in touch with all the players and management, even when I am back in New Zealand.
“I’m particularly thankful for the way both Bowls Fiji and more particularly the squad members, both men and women, have received me.
“In just eight days they have made me feel part of their proud nation and want me as part of the Bowls Fiji team and for that I am truly grateful. He admits there is one downside to his new role. “The only problem I have had is the humid heat …. 35 degrees every day, but I am learning how to cope with it. I’ve been seeking shade wherever possible.”
Symes will continue to live in Marlborough, but will make regular visits to Fiji for training and trials.
Having already made an eight-day trip to the Islands during January and returning in February for final trials and then April for training the Asia Pacific teams. He will be there for a three-week training block during May and for a before taking the 10-strong Bowls Fiji team, comprising five male players and five females, to the Asia Pacific Games on Australia’s Gold Coast from 18-28 June. In July he will take a mixed team to the Pacific Games in Samoa.
He is hoping to return to the islands in November, re-select the squads and help choose the teams for World Bowls 2020, then work regularly with them through early 2020 before taking them to the international showpiece in late June also on the Gold Coast.
His contract will end them but, if it all works out, there is a possibility he may be with Bowls Fiji for their Commonwealth Games bid in Birmingham, 2022.
Symes will have responsibility for coaching, training, and selection. There are three other selectors involved but the former NZ rep will have the final say.
He is familiar with at least one member of the Fijian set-up, having played against team manager Ratish Lal in a NZ v Fiji test Series in Auckland during 1995. They were skips of their respective country’s pair’s combinations. Symes was unaware that his former opponent was involved until meeting Lal on his recent visit and looks forward to being on the same team this time around.
Symes has enjoyed a fruitful bowls career since taking up the sport 51 years ago.
He represented his country in 298 appearances from 1985-99 and has won 55