Lead up to the World Champs
25 August 2023
By Paul Neazor

In a couple of days or so the biggest bowls event of the year kicks off. With a tip of the cap to Royal Oak, it’s not their Year 1-5 Pairs comp; rather, it’s the World Bowls Championship on the Gold Coast. And I’m going to be there, taking it all in.

At this point, I deftly avoid the hail of rotten tomatoes, dodgy eggs and half-chewed Brussels sprouts flying out of the crowd and start thinking about what might unfold right in front of my eyes.

The first thing – a no-brainer here – is some outstanding bowls, played by a lot of people who make the game look ridiculously easy. It’s going to be an education watching players I’ve only seen on telly, including Alex Marshall, Paul Foster, Katherine Rednall, the Aussie Aarons (and Aron), and a whole host of others from rink side. These days many of them play a lot more on indoor carpet surfaces than on grass, but they won’t have too much trouble adjusting.

It will be interesting to see how their opponents go about the task of dealing with them. No doubt a few will be overly nervous until the score is climbing rapidly, but others will hook in with a will and see what they can shake loose. The one thing I think we can be sure of is that the big names won’t get a cushy path into the playoffs.

That said, one would expect the last eight will be mainly from the established bowling nations – Australia, New Zealand, the four main British nations and, these days, Malaysia. It’s not going to be possible they all make it in every event, but you’d bank on four or five from those countries getting through in most disciplines.

I’ll be fascinated to see how the teams on the outside of the leading nations but who are powers in their own regions will get on. As the Oceania Challenge showed us in April, the Cook Islands had a fair claim to be considered the best team in the region behind Aotearoa Maori and New Zealand Under-26, so I’ll be keeping a close eye on them to see how they go.

Others in the same boat will be some of the African nations including South Africa, who used to be a powerhouse back in the day, Asian up-and-comers in the Philippines and India, and possibly Canada and the USA, neither of which is a real hotbed of the sport.

And speaking of bowlers from unlikely places, there are a lot of European nations we would not think of as bowling countries that will be on the Gold Coast; it would be doubtful too many Auckland bowlers have had a roll-up (we’re talking bowling greens here) in Sweden or Switzerland or Czechia or Spain or the Netherlands, but all are sending teams.

I’m looking forward to seeing which players take a stride to the front, especially those from the countries we’ve just been discussing. Invitations to big tournaments, sponsorships, wider recognition and other possible benefits await those who grasp the opportunity. Some will, for sure; at this point, we don’t know who or how many, that’s all.

I wonder whether Ryan Bester can drive harder than Teora Turua. We don’t actually get the chance to find out in a head-to-head go, but word will get around and there may be a couple of others who get a mention as well. That might be the bowling equivalent of the Home Run Derby. It always thrills the crowd – especially those immediately behind the rink.

I’ll be interested to see the bounce-back from the New Zealand players who went to Birmingham in 2022 and never seemed to hit their straps on those 12-second puddings they had to contend with. The familiar Australian surfaces will be much more to the Kiwis’ liking, so expect a greatly improved showing.

As much as anything, I’m looking forward to checking out all the famous Gold Coast clubs where the tournament is being held. I’ve not been to any of them before now but they’ll be the same as any big Australian sports club – awesome facilities funded in a big way by the lines of one-armed bandits, as the pokies used to be called. When you see ‘Green 4, Rink 27’ appearing in your draw, you know you’re at a substantial facility.

And finally, it’s going to be nice being back among the Aussies again. Brash, dismissive and loud they can be, but they love their sport, winners, and sharing a beer afterwards. Once you get the hang of it, they’re a good bunch.

It promises to be an outstanding event.


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