Bowls Comment by Denis Duffy

As Bowls followers battled the horrendous gales to locate a worthwhile spectacle last weekend, probably very few thought to stop off at the abandoned top green at Takaro. If they had, they would have observed our Commonwealth Games players, Barry Wynks and Mark Noble, hard at work for hours on end as they gradually master the skills they will require. A very different mindset, backed up by distinctly different skills, is required to be competitive on the rough, lead-heavy and at times under-prepared greens that most countries in the world strangely choose to play on. It was encouraging to hear that Mark and Barry were joined at the weekend by Wellington’s Lisa White, a member of our Women’s Team, who was in the squad that journeyed to Glasgow to experience the foreign conditions in recent months. Sharon Sims is also giving generously of her time and ‘knowhow’. To be able to tap into the experience of a local player who has managed to earn medals in top Northern Hemisphere competition must be a big advantage. Centre President Phil Skoglund battled greens like these at Edmonton in 1978, leading to his biographer later being threatened with a libel suit for honestly reporting his opinion of the local surfaces! It’s comical now to read in ‘Mr Bowls’, the biography of Phil’s uncle T.T. Skoglund, how this country sent a team in total ignorance and completely unprepared to the Vancouver Empire Games of 1954. New Zealanders played on lightning-fast grass greens in those days, and our team were totally bewildered to find themselves competing on vast swards composed of something vaguely resembling buffalo grass.

The major fixtures of the weekend were of course the Hexagonal for Men and Women, which was endorsed by players and officials and will be continued into the future. The performance of both our teams was simply outstanding. The Women proved themselves equal to the powerful Wellington side and the Men just got home ahead of Wanganui, while both left the other four Centres battling for the minor places. The Men’s Singles players, Shane Rogers and Darryl Johnson, must deserve special mention for their lion-hearted exhibitions of skill and tenacity in seriously adverse conditions, finishing with a scarcely believable nine wins and a narrow loss from ten starts. Darryl’s immaculate weight control and Shane’s ability to fight back from substantial deficits were a highlight, but the combined achievement of both teams was huge. Then came the difficult process for the respective selectors of cutting back their successful teams to the seven players required. Viv Lozell’s Women’s team looks strong and experienced, with an in-form Feona Sayles providing the spearhead in the Singles. The Men’s side is a conservative selection by Terry Puklowski, who has preferred to call on the vast top-level experience of Philip Skoglund in the Singles, rather than gambling on Shane Rogers being able to step up to an even higher plane. Shane will be disappointed, but he’s in the team, and both Men and Women have the firepower to pull off a big result.

This weekend sees another chapter of the very successful Hospice Tournament at Northern with its associated auctions and raffles which Barry Gush continues to organise and run so well. If readers not already involved are keen to participate in any way in this worthy event, they should contact Barry or the Northern Club, even at this late stage.

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Bowls Comment – 17th February

Brian Henn’s victory in a long delayed but hard fought Open Singles final was a popular one, and was even good enough to lure wife Lois to the greens for a very rare glimpse of her husband’s skills. It was his third tight tussle under the two-life system with a high quality opponent in Mark Noble, and in the end there was still nothing between them! Brian’s winning shot was an advertisement for his well recognised style, using the precise weight to achieve the result he was after. Brian is well regarded as a hard-bitten survivor from a bygone era and is hardly a poster boy for the clean -cut image that the bodies funding sport these days would like to see. He dispenses with hats for sun protection and is even sighted occasionally with a cigarette in place while drawing the shot. In earlier days he learnt his trade leading for the powerful Peter Shaw side that boasted the talented McGovern brothers in the engine room of the team, and he won his first Centre titles with them. Much more recently, his solid leading has contributed hugely to the successful Brian Little combination in Taranaki. His Gold Star took a long time coming though, because
only in recent years has he become a feared Singles exponent. His genial, no-nonsense no-fuss approach is an example to any young player.

With the crucial Champion of Champions events now complete, a lasting impression is of the collective strength of the Northern women , most recently Champion Fours and Open Pairs winners to add to another Interclub title earlier. With Sharon Sims currently having time out, there are no real stars among the Northern women, but there are many very capable players whose collective club spirit produces the little bit extra needed to win so consistently. The power of Pat Horgan’s Palmerston North combo in the Men’s Fours is obvious, but it was great to see the re-emergence of young Ashhurst skip Mark McIntosh, who marshalled his team well to take the final to the wire. Two of Pat’s team learnt their trade at Terrace End, with Mike Abraham picking up his first title and Clayton Simpson showing again that he is a fine player with youth and exceptional ability on his side.

The hexagonal representative event hosted locally this coming weekend will give both men and women a good idea of where they stand looking forward to the national Inter-Centre titles in Wellington. Barry Wynks and Mark Noble will be missed, but it’s often overlooked that Manawatu were an unlucky second to Dunedin for the Men’s title last year, so our players are genuine contenders.

The Palmerston North club will host two major extended tournaments in the near future – first the North Island LVA Fours and then the unique Golden Oldies event which has filled up yet again with a full field of eighty teams.This is a big tournament by any modern standards and Ken Murray’s superbly prepared greens will guarantee the best possible conditions for both events.

Denis Duffy