New Zealand Shears - The Show Finally On The Road
Organisers of the New Zealand Shears are breathing a sigh of relief as they bounce-back from the cancellation of last year’s event to stage the 2021 championships starting in Te Kuiti tomorrow(Thursday).
More than 200 shearers and woolhandlers will compete in the three-day championships, which 12 months ago became one of the early casualties of the 2021 Covid-19 Level 4 lockdown – called-off for the first time since the New Zealand championships were resurrected initially as the new King Country Shears in 1985.
While a Level 2 alert which cancelled this year’s Golden Shears in Masterton at just four days’ notice a month ago sent shivers up the spines of every event organiser in New Zealand, New Zealand Shears president Claire Grainger said her committee was determined to go ahead, including discussing how it could if the alert had remained in place.
“We did talk about how we could run an event without spectators,” she said. “But we haven’t had to put those sorts of plans in place, we’re here now, and we’re ready to go.”
She said last year’s cancellation came just in time for the organisation to refund competitor entries, return financial support where necessary and avoid significant financial loss, without resorting to Government-level support. Many arrangements have been able to be simply put in place a year on, in some with cost savings.
“If it had gone another week (last year) before we had to cancel we would have been up the creek,” she said.
“A second cancellation would have been devastating, for Te Kuiti and the region and for Shearing Sports and the shearing industry as a whole,” she said. “I’m not sure how we would have come back, the World’s not the same any more, and the reality is we can’t always do what we want and plan to do any more.”
But, the sponsors and supporters are all back, competitor numbers are “good”, and the season-ending festival is on with the championships’ biggest-ever number of events and the associated festival overtaking Te Kuiti on Saturday, including the Great New Zealand Muster, with over 1000 sheep expected to flock through the main street.
The traditional programme is based around nine New Zealand Championship titles, from Open to Novice grades in both shearing and woolhandling, and the North Island Shearer of the Year and New Zealand Shears Circuit finals for Open shearers. There is also a Women’s championship.
It is bolstered this year by finals in New Zealand team selection events the 49th National all-breeds shearing championship (incorporating the McSkimming Memorial Triple Crown), and the North Island Open Woolhandling Circuit, both of which would otherwise have been at the Golden Shears.
The New Zealand Shears has picked-up much of the hype that was surrounding the Golden Shears, with the glamour Open shearing events in particular sparked by the emergence of a range of competitors as major threats to the dominance of defending champion and seven-times winner Rowland Smith, of Maraekakaho, near Hastings.
They’re headed by Wairarapa shearer David Buick, who has had 10 wins in 14 finals this season, while Nathan Stratford, Leon Samuels, and Brett Roberts spearhead hopes for the South Island first win in Open championship since Southland gun Edsell Forde’s NZ title in 1993, and former World and Golden Shears Open champion and Southern Hawke’s Bay-based Scortsman Gavin Mutch, is a leading hope at the end of his busiest season in New Zealand since exiting the lower grades as No 1-ranked Senior in in 2002.
Northland shearer Toa Henderson, of Kaiwaka, is another emerging as at least a final hope, with three wins this season and finals appearance spanning the 1800km from Kaikohe to Gore.
The contests have been given extra interest with the late entry of Cheviot-based New Zealand representative Troy Pyper, also from Southland, who had originally decided not to contest the two big events in the North Island this year, despite winning both the New Zealand Winter Comb and the New Zealand Lamb Shearing titles during the season.
Among others are Hawke’s Bay shearers and former Golden Shears winners Dion King, also a former New Zealand Open champion, and Cam Ferguson, also the 2010 World champion, each of whom has barely shorn in competition in the last two years.
The Open woolhandling title is shaping as a showdown between current or past New Zealand representatives four-times champion Joel Henare, of Gisborne, nine-times champion Sheree Alabaster, of Taihape, and Pagan Karauria, of Alexandra, and 2019-2020 No 1-ranked woolhandler and seven-times NZ Open finalist Keryn Herbert, of Te Kuiti, each trying to win the title the first time.
But there are also big hopes for such competitors as Hamilton-based Chelsea Collier, a regular shows finalist who earlier in the season had her first win since 2005, and Masterton’s Samantha Gordon, who had her first Open win at Marton two months ago.
Several South Island hopes are also big prospects in the lower grades, notably Brayden Clifford, of Waikaka, in the Senior grade, battling for rankings honours with Masterton shearer Kyle Mita, and the Junior grade with North Canterbury-Marlborough Development Circuit team member Reuben King, of Rangiora, a favourite to be No 1 Junior this season.
Lower grade woolhandling rankings are a close-call, dominated by North Island competitors with at least four in the running for Senior honours, and Central North Island competitor Rahera Kerr leading but still to win the race to be the No 1 Junior.
The 2020-2021 Shearing Sports New Zealand season started in October with 60 shows scheduled throughout the country, including 11 stand-alone shearing sports shows, and 49 at A and P Shows or rural sports days.
The Covid crisis lead to 16 cancellations, but Shearing Sports New Zealand chairman Sir David Fagan, who was today at Te Kuiti’s Les Munro Centre with other NZ Shears personnel preparing for the championships, says “everyone” is looking forward to the three days, after a season in which entries have often shown shearers and woolhandlers “just want to get out and compete.”
Toa Henderson possibly leads the many examples, having shorn in finals as far afield as Kaikohe and Gore –a gap of 1800kms.
“We may have had a number of cancellations,” he said, “but it’s still 44 events that no other country has been able to have.”