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Croquet novice a NZ rep

JESS LEE
Last updated 05:00 01/02/2013
Sabri Mullaaliu
JASON OXENHAM
CROQUET CONTENDER: Sabri Mullaaliu has been selected to represent New Zealand at the Golf Croquet World Championships in Egypt.

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For a man who had never laid eyes on a croquet mallet let alone tried his hand at playing the game, Sabri Mullaaliu is on a bit of a roll.

The Mt Albert Croquet Club player has been selected to represent New Zealand at the Golf Croquet World Championships in Egypt this April.

For Albanian-born Mullaaliu, wearing the silver fern to compete at a sport which is completely unknown in his home country will be an unforgettable experience.

"When I started playing in 2006 I had never heard croquet existed," he says.

"I am the person introducing it to Albanians.

"I had a phone call from a friend in Albania who had heard about my being named in the team and he was so proud to tell me that it is a big honour for one of us to represent New Zealand."

Mullaaliu was inspired to pick up a mallet, having watched club members take to the court from the sidelines as the club's handyman.

It was a pretty smooth move making the transition from mowing the lawns at the Mt Albert club to achieving a ranking as the eighth best player in New Zealand, he says.

Mullaaliu knocked out the competition at the Veterans' Northern Championship to take first place in the golf croquet singles match in November.

He then went on to win his group with more than 33 hoops shot at the Golf Croquet Nationals held in Auckland on January 13.

"I now have a reputation to keep and defend," Mullaaliu says.

Golf croquet is a quicker version of the association format and is the fastest-growing discipline.

The Mt Albert resident will join six other New Zealanders who will compete against the world's best in Cairo for the 2013 Golf Croquet World Championships.

"It's really exciting but on the other hand it's becoming a heavy load on my shoulders to justify it because I feel very honoured to be on the team and I feel I have an obligation to do my best." Mullaaliu says that as well as enjoying the physical aspect of the sport it is a great social exercise.

"It is the most excellent way to spend time in the sun. There are people who are 80-plus years old who are so accurate with their shots and I plan to play on like them for many years to come."

Club secretary Chris Lancaster says it is unusual to see a novice player rise through the ranks so quickly.

"We're so proud of him. From mowing the lawns to becoming the eighth seeded player - he's done really well. The club got him hooked on the sport."

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Mullaaliu has also been invited to play at the Yvonne Yates Golf Croquet tournament in Nelson from February 21.

The 2013 Golf Croquet World Championships will be held from April 21-28.

Mt Albert Croquet Club is celebrating its 100th anniversary on March 9.

The club would like help tracking down photos and stories to compile in an anniversary souvenir booklet.

Phone 815-0356 or email chris.kevin@xtra.co.nz to contact club secretary Chris Lancaster for more information.

- Central Leader

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