As the final bowls came to rest, players were looking around anxiously to get the nod that they had done enough to take out the inaugural Canterbury Fives titles, with both the men’s and women’s finals coming down to the wire in Christchurch.
In a thrilling final match-up, the Stoke Thunder prevailed in the women’s field, while the Kaikorai Demons, of Dunedin, lifted the silverware in the men’s – rounding out an impressive three-day event in the Garden City played at both the Burnside and Fendalton greens.
Hosted by Bowls Canterbury, the innovative Fives event was inspired by the new look Summer of Bowls programme, with the Canterbury centre wanting to encourage outside teams to enjoy their hospitality and fine playing surfaces, while vying for their share of the $15K prize pool up for grabs.
The format saw teams compete across all disciplines, negotiating two gruelling days of qualifying to duly find the top four of each section to advance and contest the playoffs.
As the sun beamed down on play at the Burnside greens, Finals Day saw the Stoke Thunder side take on the acclaimed Canterbury side of Nicky Reed, Jan Shirley, Adele Greenfield, Raelene Peters and Julie Adams in the semi-final, with Stoke posting the clean sweep and advancing to the final.
In other results, the Allenton club dispatched the other Canterbury 2017 line-up, with Allenton posting wins in the singles, fours and pairs, comfortably earning a place in the inaugural final.
Meanwhile, the men’s semi-finals saw the Demons defeat hometown favourites Burnside, playing under the alias Banana Cake, with the side of Richard Hocking, Mike Small, Hamish Wilson, Kevin Gore and Barry Williams falling by solitary point defeats in the triples and pairs, following their only win in the fours earlier in the fixture.
In other results, the Bowls Hastings Hornets, (top qualifier in the men’s section) finished strong in the pairs and triples to take out the fiercely competitive Waikiwi side in the opposite semi-final, with top Southland representatives in the make-up including Craig Merrilees, Craig Tinker and the Gore Rams selection Caleb Hope – Waikiwi securing their only win in the fours.
The Kaikorai line-up of brothers Jonty and Callum Horwell, Dunedin representatives Russell Dawe and Geoff Wilson and former South Canterbury rep Tom Taiaroa proved a tough match-up in the final, with the experience and youth combining well for the Demons – Kaikorai placing one hand on the trophy with comfortable wins in the singles and fours, 21-13 and 21-10 respectively in the opening round of the final.
However, a mammoth turnaround effort in the pairs and triples saw the Hastings mix-up of Dean Drummond, Pat Golder, Tony Terry, Jim Bentley and Neil Barron haul themselves back into contention, controlling both fixtures and desperately attempting to narrow the differential deficit.
Despite their finest efforts, the Demons managed to hold on to a three-shot differential and claim the honours in what played out as a photo-finish to conclude the event, with their earlier wins proving the difference in a hard-fought encounter across the four disciplines.
Across rinks, it was a star-studded affair in the women’s final with former Blackjack Sandra Keith leading her Allenton side in fine style, returning to her devastating best in the pairs fixture to take the game comfortably.
Though with two opening wins in the first round going the way of Stoke, the Nelson ladies comprising former New Zealand representatives Kirsten Edwards, Leigh Griffin, Amy McIlroy and the steady contribution from team mates Gemma Watts and Barbara Thomason, found themselves with a sizeable shot buffer heading in to the pairs and triples encounters – demonstrating exactly why they were touted as one of the pre-tournament favourites and top qualifier.
Requiring only one win of the two fixtures, or narrow losses, the Stoke quintet appeared seemingly in control, though a commanding performance from Keith and lead Noeline Woods in the pairs provided an opening for Allenton to close the margin, requiring a victory in the triples to make things interesting.
And that’s exactly how it panned out.
The triples side of Rosemary Bennett, Sandra Holdom and Wendy Watson defeated the Stoke trio by a solitary point, meaning Griffin, skipping the Stoke pairing, had to turn it on for her final two bowls, needing to score to ensure a Stoke victory.
With all eyes on her penultimate delivery, Griffin, as she has done time and time again throughout her career, played a perfectly weighted shot to sit Keith’s bowl off the head and lay shot, with Keith’s final bowl swaying wide and gifting the overall win to the Stoke Thunder, prompting high fives all round and a deserved applause from spectators.
The Canterbury Fives will return next year with organisers hoping to attract more outside teams, with word of mouth from this year’s event surely to help the cause throughout the remainder of the season as bowlers look to try their hand at the ultimate team format and compete for the healthy $15k prize pool.
Results at a Glance
Canterbury Fives, Christchurch, New Zealand
Kaikorai Demons (Jonty Horwell, Callum Horwell, Russell Dawe, Geoff Wilson, Tom Taiaroa)
Bowls Hastings Hornets (Dean Drummond, Pat Golder, Tony Terry, Jim Bentley, Neil Barron)
Stoke Thunder (Kirsten Edwards, Leigh Griffin, Amy McIlroy, Barbara Thomason, Gemma Watts)
Allenton (Sandra Keith, Noeline Woods, Rosemary Bennett, Sandra Holdom, Wendy Watson)