It can be difficult deciding who Bowls New Zealand’s Men’s Player of the Year should be … not only in 2023, but any year for that matter.  There is always a clutch of men who put up their hand to emphatically say ‘pick me’ … so close are things at the top.

The same goes for the women.

And undoubtedly the National Selectors Peter Belliss and Sharon Sims encounter exactly the same problem … when it comes to who makes the team to the Multi-Nations or the World Championships, and who has to be left out.  They can be decisions based on very, very, very fine margins.

What’s great these days is that we have a lot of depth at the top of the game.  So there’s plenty of bowlers in New Zealand asking to be picked in the Blackjacks.  Much like the All Blacks going off to the World Cup … it doesn’t seem so long ago that Kiwi males were in despair over an injured and irreplaceable Dan Carter.

Yet despite a riches of depth in bowls, one man impressed the judges most.  This year, Bowls New Zealand singled out Sheldon Bagrie-Howley as the Men’s Player of the Year for 2023.

Such recognition has been a long time coming.  The 28 year-old won his first tournament way back when he was 11, and latterly he has left Belliss and Sims with no option than to include him in the Blackjacks.

In Auckland in January this year, Sheldon won the National Singles Championships … the first person from the Gore Bowling Club and indeed, the first person from Southland ever to win the 108 year-old tournament. None of his opponents even reached double figures in the first-to-21 games, and he went through six post-section games to finally win the final 21-15 against former World Champion Shannon McIlroy.

In Central Otago a couple of months later, Sheldon and his teammate, Selina Goddard, still finished second in the National Open Mixed Pairs after going down to Dean Gilshnan and Lisa White in the final.  And with his Fours team of Caleb Hope, Keanu Darby and Oliver Mason, Sheldon still finished in the top eight going down in the quarter-finals at the National Open Fours played at the same tournament.

At the National Intercentre Sevens Championships in March, the Southland Men’s Seven, which included Sheldon, came second in the 26 Centre tournament, going down to the New Zealand’s largest Centre: Auckland.

But in the National Interclub Sevens it was a different story.  Sheldon and his team from the Gore Bowling Club went all the way and came away with the title … the first time a Southland team had ever won the comp.

No one had a better start to the year in National competition than Sheldon.  His results were remarkable.

Those results made it very difficult for Belliss and Sims to say ‘no’ to Bagrie-Howley for the Multi-Nations Series on the Gold Coast later that month where he won four of his seven games in the Singles to finish fifth.  He was again selected for the Blackjacks to represent New Zealand in the World Championships at the Gold Coast at the end of August.

That’s just at national and international level.

Meantime, this year, Sheldon has still managed to win the Southland Centre Triples, the Southland Interclub Sevens, the Southland Centre Singles, and the Southland Champion of Champion Pairs …adding up to a tally of 21 Centre titles.

And in between all the bowls, this year Sheldon was a finalist for ‘Player of the Year’ in the ILT Southland Sports Awards.  At the same awards, Sheldon won Southland’s Best Sporting Moment of the Year’ for his win in the National Open Singles.

It’s been a great year for Sheldon noticeably on the green, but even much less noticeably off the green where he supports, inspires, motivates and coaxes the bowls community around him.

He has become a talisman for Gore.  And for Southland.  And now New Zealand.

Congratulations Sheldon for being our Men’s Player of the Year.