Some of the country’s best disabled lawn bowlers will be on show this season, joining the innovative, fun and fast Bowls3Five format on SKY Sport in October.
Hosted at the New Lynn Bowling Club in Auckland, selected teams from around the country ranging from Gore to Auckland compete in the eight-week league in a bid to make the play-offs and push for the overall trophy and winners’ prize cheque.
With the relegation of Canterbury’s Woodend Jets, teams throughout the nation took to the greens over summer to battle it out to be crowned the Bowls3Five Interclub champions and catapult themselves into the televised league to replace the Jets – with that honour going the way of Hinuera Bowling Club after a photo-finish effort opposite Riverhead earlier this year.
However, following the huge success of the inaugural Bowls3Five format, SKY Sport have expanded the league table next season to include a further two teams, in addition, extending the length of the competition by two more weeks.
Cue the New Zealand para bowlers – officially confirmed to enter the action and mix it with the seven other line-ups, including reigning champions Point Chevalier Pirates.
Commonwealth Games silver medallist and Para Bowler spokesperson Bruce Wakefield was delighted with the chance to showcase the talents of the country’s top disabled bowlers, describing the opportunity as the “ultimate promotion for disabled bowls”.
“A lot of people ask us (Para Bowlers) how often we play disabled bowls, generally we only play one or two tournaments a year, and the rest of our competition is right among the thick of it within all the able-bodied events against top, top bowlers,” he said.
“It will be an absolute milestone to be the first Para Bowls team to compete in this televised competition and I know we’re all waiting with bated breath to see what team and squad Bowls New Zealand have in mind.”
Wakefield was quick to point out fellow Commonwealth Games athletes such as Mark Noble, Barry Wynks and others regularly compete in their respective provincial representative sides, and wasted no time in predicting the team’s chances heading into the action.
Last year, Wakefield, Wynks and Noble agonisingly missed out on the Commonwealth gold medal in the Para Triples event on the Gold Coast, bowing out to Australia on the final bowl and settling for silver in a thrilling exhibition of the highest calibre.
“The opportunities for disabled bowlers is limitless now, you can play as much or as little as you want and in the end it comes down to what you want to make of it,” Wakefield said.
“We know we can definitely compete at this level and no matter what three we have out there on that green at any one time, we’ll be highly competitive and our aim is to make the play-offs and go further still . . . (put it this way), we’re certainly not going there to make up the numbers.”
Several months out from the competition, Bowls New Zealand have yet to announce the official line-up for the team, though an announcement, along with the team name is likely to be made in the coming weeks.
In adding the team to the league, Bowls New Zealand chief executive Mark Cameron believes the decision reflects on the sport’s inclusivity as being a sport for all.
“We’re a sport that is very much about inclusivity and including this team in such a high profile competition sends a very strong message about inclusivity in the sport sector, and we believe that bowls can lead the way in that messaging,” Cameron said.
“We couldn’t think of a better opportunity than these athletes playing in a competition like this week in week out, tested against some of the best in a televised league under pressure. . . (and I think ultimately) that reflects a strong high performance element to this decision too.”
Cameron said although the team have been drafted in through the national body, the side will be performing under the same rules as all other teams for the next three years of the televised league – with the bottom side relegated every season and the Bowls3Five National Interclub Champions filling the departed vacancy.
“There will be no exceptions and we have told them we won’t be protecting them under the Bowls New Zealand banner for the three years . . . they’ve got this opportunity and now it’s over to them to perform to keep their place alive,” Cameron said.
The Bowls3Five league will commence from October 22, 2019 and will screen three nights a week (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday), featuring two matches each night and culminating in the Grand Final on December 11.
For more information, please contact Bowls NZ chief executive Mark Cameron, 021 270 8060.