A Gold Star, two sensational comeback stories, maiden titles, surprise exits and a week of near-perfect weather.
That’s the somewhat abbreviated version of the 2019 Summerset National Championship Singles and Pairs as they played out over 18 greens throughout Auckland from January 2 to January 8.
Hosted at tournament HQ, Carlton Cornwall, the finals action delivered heartstopping moments, thrilling encounters and drama aplenty for the rinkside crowds and global social media followers picking up the livestreaming on the Bowls NZ Facebook page.
Despite some early casualties in earlier post-section rounds, including the absence of two-time finalists Dale Rayner and Ashleigh Jeffcoat in the Women’s Pairs qualifiers, the first shock of the tournament saw the incomprehensible recovery from Hillcrest’s Tony Fabling, staring down the barrel of a 15-1 deficit opposite reigning champion and current world singles champion Shannon McIlroy in the Men’s Singles semi-final.
Though Fabling, a former A Grade squash representative, produced the performance of his life to not only overturn the deficit, but run out 21-20 victor with his final bowl pulling the jack away from McIlroy’s and leaving behind a yarn that will be heard in club rooms around the country for quite some time.
Meanwhile, Fabling’s fellow Waikato representative Debbie White, also wrote her name into the history folklore, digging deep to score 10 unanswered shots opposite 2017 champion and former Commonwealth Games bronze medalist Selina Goddard, overturning a 20-11 deficit to storm home 21-20 and lift the silverware.
The Men’s Final was a little less dramatic, with Fabling unable to consistently pick the rink and keep pace with the rampant form of 21-year-old Taylor Horn – Horn, playing out of the Mangere Club and continually impressing throughout the championship, rounding out the win and claiming his maiden national title in emphatic circumstances, 21-15.
In other results, long serving Blackjack Val Smith was in no mood to fall at the final hurdle, skipping star lead Lisa Prideaux to the Women’s Pairs title and securing her Gold Star. The Gold Star reflects her three titles in the Women’s Pairs and two titles in the Women’s Fours.
But it was by no means plain sailing for the Merrylands-based international.
Up against the vastly experienced pairing of Reen Stratford and Linda Ralph, Smith and Prideaux’s buffer of 8-0 soon began to disappear, with Stratford and Ralph finding their form and taking the lead 17-14, seemingly looking to deny Smith of the win.
However, Prideaux, who has recently shifted from New South Wales to Waiheke Island, regained her concentration and alongside Smith managed to draw scores level with one end left to play.
The final end was left in no doubt, with Prideaux nailing her first attempt and Smith providing the deft touch to see out the win, with Stratford’s two runners missing narrowly to gift Smith and Prideaux the spoils.
Across rinks, the well-performed Mangere pairing, with 23 Auckland titles between them, Chris Lowe and Jordan King proved in exceptional form throughout the championship and looked the goods heading into the Grand Finale.
Though, standing in their way, two-time semi-finalists Karl Garrett and Colin Gawith – the Thames Valley pairing responsible for ending the three-peat run of dual world champion Gary Lawson and lead Jamie Hill – equally proving to be in commanding form.
King, a former Kiwi representative at the prestigious Hong Kong International Classic, delivered time and time again as he laid the foundation for Lowe to build on, and despite Garrett’s forcing efforts keeping them in the game – King and Lowe edged home, with Lowe drawing two shots to secure the title by a solitary point.
The win also marked the first national title for King and Lowe.
Intriguingly, the aptly dubbed “young brigade” made up of Sheldon Bagrie-Howley, Seamus Curtin, Caleb Hope, Ashleigh Jeffcoat, Nicole Toomey, Bradley Down, Finbar McGuigan and Jesse Russell, who all performed superbly at the last Nationals in Dunedin, failed to fire at the business end of this competition – with local knowledge seemingly proving too much to overcome as they took early exits in post-section to well-performed Aucklanders – albeit Bagrie-Howley beaten by former international Richard Girvan.
Though, with other high profile results elsewhere and an abundance of talent to draw on, the national selection panel will be feeling positive about the sport’s future, with a 21-year-old crowned the best in the country and a 24-year-old near missing for a second singles title in three years.
Other past winners and seasoned campaigners Petar Sain, Rob Ashton, Maurice Symes, Tony Grantham, Sue Wightman, Ann Muir and Dean Elgar, all performed well, bowing out in the later stages of post-section, despite showing a high level of consistency throughout.
As the curtain closes on the 2019 first installment and the champions now crowned in the Singles and Pairs, all attention will switch to the Summerset National Fours to be held in Wellington from March 1, where it is expected some star-studded line-ups will be present to show their wares at the Naenae complex.