No favours for defending bowls champion
One of the first things Canterbury bowler Sandra Keith will do this morning is check the health of the computer that has dealt her a tough draw in the New Zealand women's singles.
The Dunsandel club player, who won last year's title in Auckland, will need to call on all of her skill and tenacity to secure the necessary three wins from four scheduled rounds to qualify for Monday's post-section play.
Keith's opening clash on the first day at the Paritutu greens in New Plymouth is against long-serving Wellington representative Leigh Griffin. The Victoria club player has amassed 23 centre titles in the capital, which places her second only to Judy Howat.
Two Auckland titleholders, Tania Wrigley (Carlton Cornwall) and Reen Stratford (New Lynn), will present stern challenges for Keith in rounds two and three, before what could be an intriguing final match against Hinuera's Bev Corbett.
Corbett, a past New Zealand representative and winner of the fours in 1997, is part of the famous Settle family from Waikato and remains a fine competitor.
Last year's title started a remarkable run for Keith.
She then won both the pairs and triples titles at the national club championships before winning the world champion of champions singles in Cyprus in November.
The field of 144 for the women's singles is up eight on last season, with a number of the sections looking exceedingly strong.
Therefore, casualties would seem inevitable.
At Port View, last year's runner-up Mandy Boyd, of Johnsonville, opens her account against the under-rated Pauline Davy (Lepperton), while another interesting opening game is at West End where Taupo's Wendy Green will tackle former clubmate Mary Campbell, now of Tauranga South.
Paritutu's Cathy Andrews, the Taranaki singles champion, will be among the favoured locals.
She, too, faces a mouth-watering first game, at Fitzroy, against national squad member Clare McCaul, of Silverstream.
Other players expected to do well are Kirsten Griffin (Victoria), who won the New Zealand open singles last month, Sue Wrightman (Mangawhai), Amy Brenton (United, Nelson), Howat, Serena Matthews (Dunsandel) and Kaaren Guilford (Johnsonville).
The defending titleholders in the men's pairs, Alvin Gardiner (Elmwood) and Blake Signal (Stokes Valley), also will not have things all their own way in section play.
Qualifying in the men's pairs is over six rounds, with three games being played today and the same number tomorrow. Four wins or more are required to make Monday's knockout stage.
Gardiner, the lead, and Signal, who also won the fours last season, open with a potentially tricky assignment against Johnsonville's Adrian Cronin and Dick Williams.
Tomorrow they meet Tauranga South's Graham Skellern, who is teamed with Chad Grant, then they play two excellent competitors from the north - Colin Rogan and Neil Fisher - before playing one of Taranaki's best chances of a high finish, John Garrud and Gary Lilley, from West End.
Last season's runners-up, Stoke's Jimmy Pugh and Peter Hodson, who is also the singles titleholder, square off in the opening match against another notable northern pair, Steve Cox and Wally Marsic (Carlton Cornwall).
Another match spectators should focus on tomorrow is Manawatu's Ross Ellery and Phillip Skoglund taking on the 1995 champions, Lance Tasker and Peter Belliss (Aramoho).
Four of the five men who achieved modest success at the recent world championships have entered in Shannon McIlroy (Stoke), Matt Gallop (Blenheim), Ali Forsyth (Havelock) and Richard Girvan (Onehunga).
McIlroy skips Lance Pascoe (Wilton), Gallop and Forsyth, who were runners-up two seasons ago, team up again, while Girvan links up with the 2005 winner, Kevin Robinson, of Tokoroa.
Other likely combinations include Scott Cottrell (Onehunga) and Petar Sain (Carlton Cornwall), Gary Mounsey and Brian Baldwin (Musgrave Hill), Raika Gregory (Frankton Railway) and Andrew Kelly (Canterbury), and Beau Prideaux and Rowan Brassey (Cabramatta).
LAST YEAR'S WINNERS
Singles: Sandra Keith (Leeston), Peter Hodson (Stoke).
Pairs: Genevieve Baildon and Jan Shirley (composite), Blake Signal and Alvin Gardiner (composite).
Fours: Carole Frederick, Ruth Lynch, Gayle Melrose and Lisa Helming (Birkenhead); Andrew Kelly, Ali Forsyth, Blake Signal and Greg Ruaporo (composite).
Taranaki Daily News