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Haig Blows A Few Cobwebs Out, And Wins First Open Title In 26 Years

Taumarunui farm stock manager Miri Haig went 26 years almost completely out of the woolhandling scene but showed she hadn’t lost the touch when she won the Waitangi Day Sports Open final near the isolated King Country township of Aria on Tuesday.

Among the field of 11, on a day when about 110 shearers and woolhandlers – including finalists from the UK, Northern Ireland, and Australia - came to a township with a population of barely 130, were six others with Open-final wins behind them.

They included former World teams champion Keryn Herbert, of Te Kuiti, whose 2020, 2021 and 2022 wins at Aria and three wins this season are among a career total of 55 wins.

She missed out on a place in Tuesday’s final, in which the runner-up was former New Zealand Shears Open champion Hanatia Tipene, also of Te Kuiti, and Chelsea Collier, of Hamilton, who last season won major titles at Winton and Marton and was runner-up at Aria, was third.

While dominating the points in fleece and oddments judging, it was a close result with 47-year-old Haig beating Tipene by just 0.76pts.

Just wanted to “have fun”, “entertain” and sate “the bug that never leaves you”, she overcame some difficult windy conditions in only her third competition on a tentative comeback trail and in her first final since finishing runner-up in her second consecutive New Zealand Shears Open final in Te Kuiti in April 1998.

It had been a brief competitive career, otherwise producing just one Open win, in Feilding earlier in 1998, and in Senior grade a second placing at the 1996 Golden Shears and two wins soon afterwards, including the New Zealand Shears Senior title.

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She then moved onto a farm, “life got in the way”, and she had “lots of babies”, and became a stock manager overseeing three farm blocks in the Taumarunui area.

She does have a 13-year-old daughter learning to shear and looking to possibly compete, and two others who do some woolhandling, but it was her own concerted decision to get back amongst it at Aria, although it was a confounding outcome.

“I thought I’d just blow a few cobwebs out,” she said. “I’m not sure how I pulled that one off. I have no idea.”

It was a “pleasant surprise” to just make it out of the heats to the semi-finals, and the same to also make it to the finals, against competitors who were mainly barely out of school when she last won anything.

But, even with “the bug” stirring again, she’s keeping it in context, saying she will compete at a new woolhandling completion on February 17 at Ohura, a township between Taumarunui and Stratford with also a population of about 130, she “might head down to the Goldies” in Masterton on February 29-March 2, and she will “probably” return to the Te Kuiti board in April.

Meanwhile, Northland shearer Toa Henderson’s dad reckons “the boy’s on fire.”

Others might think it’s time they should call the fire brigade, after winning the Aria Open shearing final – the fourth time in 10 days in the Central North Island he’s shorn a 20-sheep final in under 16 minutes.

But this time it was even quicker, finishing in 14min 56sec, two seconds quicker than when he won the event last year.

He again beat each other finalist by at least a whole sheep, averaging 44.8 seconds a sheep caught, shorn and dispatched, and this time beat World nine-hours lambs shearing record-holder and Hawke’s Bay-based England shearer Stuart Connor by 48 seconds, and eight-hours record-holder Jack Fagan, of Te Kuiti, by 1min 22sec.

Following a win at Taihape on January 27, second-place behind Golden Shears champion Rowland Smith at Dannevirke on Friday and another win at Marton on Saturday, Henderson again held the quality together enough to claim the victory by a comfortable 2.4pts from Connor, runner-up for a second time since arriving in New Zealand in November.

With final points in order of how the four they came off the board, Fagan was third and fellow Te Kuiti shearer Mark Grainger fourth, finishing in 17min 59sec and unable to make a significant dent despite having the best quality points in both board and pen judging.

Last season there were 27 20-sheep finals (four on lambs) in New Zealand, with only two, at Aria and Apiti, both on adult sheep, being shorn in under 15 minutes.

In other shearing events at Aria, 2022-2023 No 1 ranked Intermediate shearer Bruce Grace, from Wairoa, had his first Senior win, after three second placings and four third placings in nine other Senior finals during the season, West Australian shearer Danielle Mauger followed a win at Dannevirke on Friday and a second placing at Marton on Saturday with victory in the Intermediate final, Irish shearer Paddy Dunne continued a run of winning and high-placed form to win the Junior final, and Northern Hawke’s Bay twins Ashlin and Shawna Swann were first and second in the Novice event.

In other woolhandling events, the Senior final was won by Lee George, of Te Kuiti, and the Junior final by Capree Wallace, of Taihape.

RESULTS from the Aria Waitangi Day Sports Shears on Tuesday, February 6, 2024:


Open final (20 sheep): Toa Henderson (Kaiwaka) 14min 56sec, 51.2pts, 1; Stuart Connor (England/Hastings) 15min 44sec, 53.5pts, 2; Jack Fagan (Te Kuiti) 16min 18sec, 56.55pts, 3; Mark Grainger (Te Kuiti) 17min 59sec, 58.55pts, 4.

Senior final (10 sheep): Bruce Grace (Wairoa/Napier) 10min 13sec, 37.15pts, 1; Forde Alexander (Taumarunui) 10min 4sec, 37.4pts, 2; Alex Butler (Ballyvoy, Northern Ireland) 10min 45sec,39.15pts, 3; Tommy Stevenson (Ruawai) 10min 33sec, 39.65pts, 4.

Intermediate final (6 sheep): Danielle Mauger (Mullalyup, West Australia) 8min 37sec, 30.5167pts, 1; Heath Barnsdall (Piopio) 8min 27sec, 31.0167pts, 2; Tini Papanui (Feilding) 8min 18sec, 32.7333pts, 3; Rhys Morris (Builth Wales, Wales) 9min 11sec, 34.2167pts, 4.

Junior final (4 sheep): Paddy Dunne (Wicklow, Ireland) 5min 53sec, 26.25pts, 1; Lachie Cameron (Pohangina) 7min 31sec, 28.3pts, 2; Bedwyr Gruffyd (Ruthin, Wales) 6min 33sec, 31.65pts, 3; Tom Kerley (Wairoa) 9min 7sec, 32.35pts, 4.

Novice (1 sheep): Ashlin Swann (Wairoa) 4min 3sec, 16.15pts, 1; Shawna Swann (Wairoa) 4min 3sec, 24.15pts, 2; Te Anna Phillips (Taumarunui) 4min 46sec, 27.3pts, 3.


Open final: Miri Haig (Taumarunui) 81.65pts, 1; Hanatia Tipene (Te Kuiti) 82.41pts, 2; Chelsea Collier (Hamilton) 110.37pts, 3.

Senior final: Lee George (Te Kuiti) 71.97pts, 1; Nohokainga Maraki (Flaxmere) 84.1pts, 2; Whakapunake (Naki) Maraki (Flaxmere) 104.22pts, 3.

Junior final: Capree Wallace (Taihape) 45.844pts, 1; Chloe Henderson (Hunterville) 52.78pts, 2; Rahera Lewis (Taihape) 56.37pts, 3.

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