In an eagerly anticipated rebirth of the North vs South Challenge, the star studded North Island contingent have run out comfortable winners, defeating their South Island counterparts 13-7 in a thrilling curtain raiser to the National Intercentre and claiming the 2019 spoils.
Held at the Intercentre’s headquarters, Howick Bowling Club in East Auckland, some of the country’s greatest and most in form players took to the green to battle it out for island supremacy and show their wares in a “State of Origin”-like clash.
In picking the sides, the selectors clearly rewarded form displayed at this year’s Summerset Nationals, with other combinations across the green perhaps a glimpse into possible Blackjack selections for months to follow.
Reigning national singles champions Taylor Horn and Debbie White got the nod in the men’s and women’s singles for the North, while winning men’s fours skipper Dean Elgar was charged with spearheading a powerhouse North Island line-up comprising Wellington’s Ray Martin, North Harbour protege Darryl Read and former New Zealand representative Tony Grantham.
Continuing their rampant form, both Horn and White proved exactly why they were crowned the country’s best this season, Horn defeating Canterbury’s Andrew Kelly by a solitary point, while White edged former Blackjack Sandra Keith in a thrilling match-up, 25-18.
Double world champion Gary Lawson, who has recently been recalled into the top ranks of the game, combined expertly with reigning world singles champion Shannon McIlroy, both demonstrating their fierce prowess and highlighting their devastating ability to pile the pressure on opponents – with the South Island pairing outclassing the North Island representation of reigning national pairs champion Jordan King and late call-up Gavin Scrivener, 29-10.
Scrivener, who lead for Elgar’s winning national fours side, replaced Auckland representative and high performance squad member Jamie Hill, (who was forced to withdraw from both the interisland fixture and this weekend’s Intercentre action due to personal reasons) – putting up a proud display for the North opposite arguably an exciting prospect for national selectors to ponder in Lawson and McIlroy.
Meanwhile, the women’s pairings of Sarah Scott and Tayla Bruce (South) shared the points in a virtual exhibition level fixture, drawing 18-18 against 2017 national pairs champions Dale Rayner and Ashleigh Jeffcoat.
The men’s fours saw Elgar complete the double over Dunedin singles maestro Mike Kernaghan, pipping Kernaghan’s South Island stars 11-9, backing up his victory several weeks ago in the last bowl celebration at Naenae. Kernaghan’s four comprised 1998 national fours champion Andre Smith, of Malrbouroguh, and talented youngsters Sheldon Bagrie-Howley and Richard Hocking, both of which have previously donned the national colours for the New Zealand Development side.
Across rinks, the impressive North Island women’s fours combination of Bowls3Five personality and former Blackjack Lisa White, ably supported by fellow national high performance squad members Lisa Prideaux, Selina Goddard and Wendy Jensen proved too strong for Nelson charges Kirsten Edwards, Amy McIlroy and talent development squad members Cait Bassett and Bronwyn Stevens, – the North securing the game points in a convincing display, 17-6.
At this point, it was somewhat of an opportunity to restore pride for Dunedin’s Keanu Darby – and – Tessa Lee, who gelled well to control a strong mixed pairs challenge from Hawkes Bay protege Dean Drummond and Kimberley Hemingway, the southerners running out victors, 15-7 and closing the overall winning margin.
Though, on a sunny Thursday afternoon in perfect bowling conditions, not even Kernaghan could deny the efforts of the Northerners, congratulating Elgar and his troops on a hard fought display and narrow victory, eventually washing up 13 game points to seven (four wins, one draw vs two wins, one draw).
Elgar, who will play Kernaghan in a section-play singles match up on Saturday, praised the southerners for their fair play and match spirit, and will no doubt be hoping to make it a three-peat opposite Kernaghan come the weekend.
For now though, it’s back to the drawing board for the southerners as they look to prepare a side raring to wrestle the silverware back from the North in the somewhat foreseen 2020 edition.
Results at a Glance
2019 North vs South Challenge, Howick Bowling Club
North Island d South Island – 13-7
Singles: Taylor Horn (North) d Andrew Kelly (South); 25-24
Pairs: Gary Lawson, Shannon McIlroy (South) d Jordan King, Gavin Scrivener (North); 29-10
Fours: Dean Elgar, Raymond Martin, Darryl Read, Tony Grantham (North) d Mike Kernaghan, Andre Smith, Sheldon Bagrie-Howley, Richard Hocking (South); 11-9
Singles: Debbie White (North) d Sandra Keith (South); 25-18
Pairs: Dale Rayner, Ashleigh Jeffcoat (North) DRAW Sarah Scott, Tayla Bruce (South); 18-18
Fours: Lisa White, Lisa Prideaux, Selina Goddard, Wendy Jensen (North) d Kirsten Edwards, Amy McIlroy, Cait Bassett, Bronwyn Stevens (South); 17-6
Keanu Darby, Tessa Lee (South) d Dean Drummond, Kimberley Hemingway (North); 15-7