Big Day Out for the 1-5s!
29 May 2024
By Paul Neazor

The Auckland Bowling Club staged its second Year 1-5 Singles Champ of Champs event over the weekend just gone and was rewarded with considerable interest from players further afield than just Auckland.

The Champ of Champs Fours may have been the headline act over the weekend, but the newer players attracted their share of attention. Last year the tournament was restricted to players from Auckland but the decision was taken to open it to anyone in 2024, thinking that maybe a few players from North Harbour and Counties might play.

Well, they came from miles away, and for a very simple reason. We in Auckland have plenty of artificial greens, and an increasing number with covers, but other areas play on grass. With the onset of winter, those greens close. So players were dead keen on a tournament of this type.

Six centres apart from Auckland – Far North, Northland, North Harbour, Counties, Waikato and Taranaki – were represented. There probably would have been more if it was realised how attractive the event might be, and plans drawn accordingly. It was, after all, a long way to come if there was a chance your day might end in the first round. Lesson learned for 2025!

Eventually, 29 players signed up, meaning a second quality green was needed and Otahuhu Railway offered that – and it was much appreciated by the organisers. A good green, and Ron Botica’s superb baked goodies for morning tea. Every player from out of town wondered if this was how well you ate at every Auckland club. Answer: No, Ron’s one of a few.

Matches were sternly contested. Walking into a clubhouse where half the uniforms are unfamiliar is a new concept for many Year 1-5 players, and instantly one wonders what the wearer is capable of on the green. Sometimes they might forget exactly the same thoughts and doubts are being returned, and it wasn’t surprising a few nervous starts were made.

That didn’t last long; remember these are some of the best newish players around and they were quickly into stride. It was apparent there were any number of above-average bowlers on show, and many enjoyed the fact men and women were in the same field. A common theme was it was nice to play with gals or guys, as the chance didn’t come up often in some centres.

A few players stood out. One who quickly attracted attention was Opononi representative Hoani Riki. He’s 11 years old, and for Aucklanders, it was like watching Davey Motu five years ago. Riki has a flowing style and a steady temperament he doesn’t panic and it’s clear he’s learning the inside game from a young age – not surprising since his Dad, Brett, earned his Far North Gold Star the week before. One to watch in the future.

With a tournament like this, it’s not rare for little-known players from smaller clubs to make a mark. That happened, too. One – Bim Wilkinson from Russell – had been playing for about six months. He played well enough to make the semi-finals and only went under after a strong fight. Eddie Mitchell from Epsom was another first-year player who made it through to the second day.

There were plenty of rep players in the field as well and two, Matthew Wesche from Hunua and Clinton Smith of Hobsonville, had enjoyed big seasons in their home centres. They progressed smoothly through the first day, winning well despite often having to play conversions or recoveries under pressure.

On the distaff side, Angela Moon from One Tree Point had the highest finish, finally bowing out in the semi-final after three good wins in matches which swung one way and then the other. A fourth-year player, she wasn’t in the habit of making silly mistakes or playing careless shots and was an opponent to be treated with caution.

One of the beauties of this competition was players could be matched up with others from hundreds of kilometres away. The biggest geographical range in any game saw Wilkinson facing Mihi Hona from Lepperton, a small town just outside New Plymouth, in one of several male-female clashes. Chances are they would never have met without this tournament.

A quality final four saw Smith beat Wilkinson and Wesche beat Moon, with both semis demonstrating high-quality bowls in less-than-pleasant conditions. Wesche went on to win the final over Smith by 21-14, dealing with pressure – and there was plenty of it – in masterly fashion.

A year from now some changes will be made in the format, with section play on Saturday rather than a straight knock-out. All players who turned out this year are keen to come back – or encourage whoever vanquishes them in club play to make the trip. One thing we know is that a new name will go on the Greame Scott Shield – the winner’s trophy, named for a Life Member of both Auckland Bowling Club and Bowls Auckland, who has been both President and Patron of each, and who now does a lot for the youth game through the Kittyhawks. Wesche is in his final junior season.

Auckland Bowling Club enjoyed putting this tournament together and was gratified with the response. It’s not a Centre event, nor a National event, but falls somewhere in between. It does, however, offer something different to the game.

And that can only be good.