Format to challenge bowlers
A new format will keep all 24 teams on their toes when the Bowls New Zealand national intercentre championships start tomorrow in Auckland.
This year's revised format has seen the previous zone competitions replaced by a national four-day event involving the country's top 24 provinces. The 24 men's and women's teams will compete in four sections of six with the top two teams in each section qualifying for the quarterfinals.
Adding to the intrigue, both competitions are unseeded, meaning the Nelson women's team, who won last year's national title, will be competing in section two alongside last year's second and third-placed teams, Southland and Wellington. Auckland, Bay of Plenty and Central Otago complete their pool.
"I'm actually not sorry it's happened because it will condition our players and, as I see it, they're looking forward to the challenge and it will harden them up for post section," said Nelson selector John Caldwell.
Regardless, he's still picking Nelson and Canterbury, who'll contest section one, as the teams to beat in the women's competition at the Carlton Cornwall and Mt Eden clubs. The post section will also be drawn out of a hat.
Nelson will field two strong sides with current Black Jacks Val Smith, Jo Edwards and Shannon McIlroy joining former internationals Andrew Curtain and Richard Collett in the mix.
Nelson won the national men's title two years ago, with the same lineup back this year, although there has been a player reshuffle. Gary Watson moves out of the four to partner Andrew Curtain in the pair ,with Jimmy Pugh now in the four.
There are two changes to last year's champion women's team following the retirement of former international representative Marie Watson and the unavailability of Misty Arnold, who has had a baby.
Experienced United player Judy Heeman and Ngawhatu's Mary Orbell have been named in the four, with Amy McIlroy (nee Brenton) switching from the four to play lead for Edwards in the pair.
"I'm really pleased with the preparation," Caldwell said.
"The attitude of the players is fantastic, they're certainly not complacent. They realise this is not going to be a walk in the park, that it's going to be very challenging, but we all believe we're up for the challenge and can bring home the bacon.
"The competition's in its infancy and, as the competition goes on in the next few years, I understand they're going to seed teams."
The men will contest section four alongside Southland, Counties Manukau, Wanganui, North Harbour and Wairarapa, with the first two days scheduled for Birkenhead and Howick.
"We don't know much about Counties, Wanganui or Wairarapa. North Harbour we played in the finals two years ago when we won it.
"We've got to show tremendous respect for these teams and at the end of the day, if we don't, we'll get beaten. It's as simple as that.
"Complacency will kill us. We've got two very strong sides I believe and Auckland [in section one] are definitely the No 1 seeds in the men.
"They're all pretty excited and I think you always need a bit of luck at these tournaments, there's no question about it."
Women - singles: Val Smith; pair: Amy McIlroy, Jo Edwards (s); four: Colleen Earl, Mary Orbell, Barbara McGregor, Judy Heeman (s).
Men - singles: Shannon McIlroy; pair: Gary Watson, Andrew Curtain (s); four: Jimmy Pugh, Murray Scott, Peter Hodson, Richard Collett (s).
The Nelson Mail