Bowls New Zealand has made a landmark decision to include a Para team in this year’s Bowls3Five televised league.
The Parajacks will compete against seven club teams from around the country in the second edition of the tournament, which be played at the New Lynn Bowling Club in Auckland from October 22-December 11.
Paralympics New Zealand chief executive Fiona Allan has commended the move.
“I would like to congratulate Bowls NZ on the inclusion of a Para lawn bowls team in the Bowls3Five league this year,” Allan said.
“This provides a great opportunity for the Para athletes to compete in a highly competitive national competition against some of New Zealand’s top bowlers.
“With the league being televised this is another great opportunity for Para athletes to use the power of sport to influence community perceptions of disabled people.”
Gold Coast Commonwealth Games silver medallists Barry Wynks, Bruce Wakefield and Mark Noble headline the Parajacks squad.
They agonisingly missed out on gold in the Para triples last year, losing to Australia on the final bowl and Wakefield believes the inclusion of a Para team in Bowls3Five is “the ultimate promotion for disabled bowls”.
“It will be an absolute milestone to be the first Para bowls team to compete in this televised competition,” he said.
“The opportunities for disabled bowlers are 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.”
Playing against decorated Blackjacks like Shannon McIlroy and Gary Lawson holds no fear for Wakefield, who is adamant they have not been included “to make up the numbers”.
“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 playoffs and go further still.
“A lot of people ask us 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.”
Peter Horn and Graham Skellern are the other men in the Parajacks, while Glasgow Commonwealth Games silver medallist Lynda Bennett, Carolyn Crawford and Pam Walker are the three women in the eight-strong squad.
The Parajacks will compete against the defending champion Pt Chevalier Pirates, the Gore Rams, Stoke Thunder, Royal Oak Rockets, Stokes Valley Vipers, national interclub champions Hinuera Heat and the newly formed Elmwood Saints in the second edition of Bowls3Five.
It will again be broadcast live on SKY Sport, but this year’s competition has been expanded to three nights a week for seven weeks, before the semi-finals and final in week eight.