Defending champions Auckland (men) and Nelson (women) each have their own obstacles to overcome when the intercentre bowls competition starts in Auckland today.
Auckland have had a late change forced upon them, after the withdrawal of New Zealand representative Tony Grantham from the singles, while Nelson have drawn the pool of death in qualifying.
Auckland are in section one of the men's event, with their stiffest opposition likely to come from Wellington and Taranaki, who finished third last year. The top two sides from each section advance to the quarterfinals on Saturday afternoon.
After a less than satisfactory showing last weekend, Wellington has re-jigged its team, with Rob Ashton now in the singles and Justin Goodwin transferring across to lead for Lance Pascoe in the pairs.
Section two shapes as an intriguing battle. Canterbury and Manawatu, both recent winners, should be well served in the singles by Andrew Kelly and Ross Ellery respectively, while Dunedin, who has won the event more than any other centre, Waikato and Gisborne East Coast also present capable line-ups.
Northland sneaked into the finals last season and they appear in section three alongside Bay of Plenty and Hawke's Bay.
Nelson, with Shannon McIlroy in the singles and Andy Curtain skipping the pair, loom as the strongest section four side, with North Harbour, Wanganui and Southland chasing the second qualifying berth.
Nelson again appeals in the women's competition with Val Smith in the singles and Jo Edwards skipping the pairs. But they face a tricky second section. It includes Bay of Plenty, Auckland and Wellington, along with Southland who finished second last year, but must do without star singles exponent Pam Calder this time.
Canterbury standout as the side to beat in section one, with Jan Khan playing the singles and current Dominion titleholders Serena Matthews and Sandra Keith in the pairs. Section three appears wide open, while Northland will fancy its chances in section four.
Unlike previous seasons when provinces have qualified for the national final by winning a regional event, this year every willing centre heads straight into the big time.
Of the 27 centres in New Zealand, 24 have taken up the opportunity - and paid the $4000 entry fee per gender - to be involved. Only Kapiti, Buller and North Otago have opted out.
The semi and finals are scheduled for Sunday at the Howick club.
Men's pools, section 1: Auckland, Far North, South Canterbury, South Otago, Taranaki, Wellington. Section 2: Canterbury, Dunedin, Gisborne East Coast, Manawatu, Thames Valley, Waikato. Section 3: Bay of Plenty, Central Otago, Hawke's Bay, Marlborough, Northland, West Coast. Section 4: Counties Manukau, Nelson, North Harbour, Southland, Wairarapa, Wanganui.
Women's pools, section 1: Canterbury, Manawatu, North Harbour, South Canterbury, Taranaki, Waikato. Section 2: Auckland, Bay of Plenty, Central Otago, Nelson, Southland, Wellington. Section 3: Counties Manukau, Hawke's Bay, Marlborough, South Otago, Thames Valley, Wairarapa. Section 4: Dunedin, Far North, Gisborne East Coast, Northland, Wanganui, West Coast.
Men: singles, Craig Merrilees; Glenn Milne, Ian Brown; fours, Graham Low, Steve Sanders, Lyall Spencer, Stu Dickson. Women: singles, Maree Jones; pairs, Marlene Orlowski, Averil Fowler; fours, Jan Low, Pat Clark, Liz Tomlins, Sue Kincaid.
Men: singles, Pat Houlahan; pairs, Russell Laing, Simon Nyhof; fours, Allan Brash, Howard O'Donnell, Martin Kreft, Trevor Drake. Women: singles, Imela Holdom; pairs, Lyn Somerville, Margaret O'Connor; fours, Christine Buchanan, Rhonda Hurley, Ruth Grant, Linley O'Callaghan.
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