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Wool champ fleeces the best in national title prelude - March 29, 2009

World woolhandling champion Sheree Alabaster returned to winning form today (sunday) to successfully defend her Taranaki open title in Stratford.

It was the 34-year-old Taihape school teacher's first win since claiming the World crown in Norway in October, and comes just days befoere Te Kuiti's 25th New Zealand shearing championships, where she will be trying to regain the national titles she won three times consecutively from 2004 to 2006.

Meanwhile, Hawke's Bay shearers John Kirkpatrick and Dion King have set up what will be effectively a showdown with the best from King Country and Taranaki at the New Zealand championships, which Kirkpatrick won for the first time last year.

King, the 2006 Golden Shears open champion and North Island Shearer of the Year, won the open final at the Waitomo Caves Sports on Saturday, beating Te Kuiti icon David Fagan, who earlier this month won his 16th Golden Shears open.

Kirkpatrick failed to make the final, his first miss since a shock elimination in the semi-finals at the Golden Shears in Masterton, but he compensated by beating Fagan today to win the Taranaki open, his 16th win in 22 competitions in New Zealand this season.

Fagan was second in both events, followed by Dean Ball, also of Te Kuiti.

Fourth at Waitomo was Whangamomona-based Scotsman Gavin Mutch, while King was fourth in the six-man Taranaki final, followed by World champion and hometown hero Paul Avery, and Mutch.

Also in Stratford, Kirkpatrick and Avery assured a Kiwi victory in the first home shearing series against Wales, beating Welshmen Nicky Beynon and Gareth Daniel to go 3-0 up going into the final test in Te Kuiti.

The New Zealand championships start in Te Kuiti on Thursday, with Kirkpatrick defending the title he won last year for the first time after 14 seasons of trying.

The 47-year-old Fagan, both a competitor and organiser of the Te Kuiti competition since it was established as the King Country Shears in 1985, will be aiming to win its open title for a 17th time. He has also won 16 North Island Shearer of the Year titles on the same board. The other previous winners will all be back in Te Kuiti - three-times champion Avery, two-times winner Edsel Forde, the host town's founding-year champion and current Shearing Sports New Zealand chairman John Fagan, now living at Waihi, and Kaikoura MP Colin King, the only left-handed winner of the title.

Welsh pair share shear delight on historic NZ tour - March 25, 2009

A Welsh shearing team soundly beaten in the first two tests of a gound-breaking New Zealand tour is hoping to make-up some lost ground in the second half of the series after an historic first win over a New Zealand Development team in the Central North Island last Saturday.

Welsh shearer Nicky Beynon and Gareth Daniel beat a Development team of Invecargill shearer Andy Mainland and Peter Jackson, of Te Kuiti, at the Waimarino Shears in Raetihi last Saturday.

With the victory by a comfortable 9.9pts behind them, effectively a first Welsh shearing team win in New Zealand, the pair face a rematch against the Development squad at the Waitomo Caves Shears at Waitomo on Saturday(March 28), in preparation for the penultimate test against New Zealand's World champions, Paul Avery, of Stratford, and John Kirkpatrick, at the Taranaki Shears in Stratford the next day.

It is the first shearing test series between gthe two countries in New Zealand, although several series have been staged in Britain.

The Kiwis, dubbed the Shear Blacks during their World Championships in Norway in October, will be going for a sixth consecutive win over Wales, following a 3-0 series win in Wales last July, and victories in the opening tests of the current series at the Golden Shears in Masterton and the Kumeu Summer Shears earlier this month. The final test will be during the 25 New Zealand Shearing Championships in Te Kuiti next week (April 2-4).

Meanwhile, Kirkpatrick is looking to finish the season with a flourish after winning both the Kumeu and Waimarino open finals, after his demise in his defence of the Golden Shears title, when he was eliminated in the semi-final and had to settle for victory in the Open Plate as King Country icon David Fagan went-on to win the major title for a 16th time.

With 15 wins in 20 competitions this season, Kirkpatrick is all-but assured retaining his place at the top of the national rankings, but is going for a double at Waitomo and Stratford, bypassing Friday night's Hawke's Bay Sports Awards in his preparation for his defence of the season-ending double he won last year, the New Zealand title at Te Kuiti and the Northern Shears Open at the Auckland Easter Show.

Results from the Welsh tour to date are:

Wales Tour of New Zealand - 2009

March 7, First test at Masterton (12 sheep):
New Zealand 80.984pts (Paul Avery 10min 34sec, 40.033pts; John Kirkpatrick 10min 57.34sec, 40.951pts) beat Wales 97.761pts (Gareth Daniel 11min 43.74sec, 45.771pts; Nicky Beynon 13min 16.47sec, 51.99pts).

March 14, Second test at Kumeu (8 sheep):
New Zealand 69.44pts (Paul Avery 7min 20.88sec, 32.044pts; John Kirkpatrick 7min 47.91sec, 32.396pts) beat Wales 72.754pts (Gareth Daniel 7min 19.23sec, 34.212pts; Nicky Beynon 9min 5.84sec, 38.542pts).

March 21, v NZ Development Team, Waimarino Shears, Raetihi (12 sheep):
Wales 103.866pts (Gareth Daniel 13min 19sec, 50.117pts; Nicky Beynon 13min 35sec, 53.75pts) beat New Zealand Development 113.766pts (Andy Mainland 13min 34sec, 56.533pts; Peter Jackson 14min 23sec, 57.233pts).

March 28, v NZ Development team, at Waitomo

March 29, Third test at Taranaki Shears

April 2-4, Fourth Test at Te Kuiti

Sports award for woolhandling champ - March 23, 2009

World woolhandling champion and country school principal Sheree Alabaster got over a lack of winning form since returning from last October's triumph in Norway and a tough week at work by claiming the Wanganui Sportsperson of the Year Award during the weekend. The award suprised many, not least the 34-year-old from Taihape who triumphed over popular contenders such as Heartland rugby championships 2008 player of the year and Wanganui wing Cameron Crowley and Olympic Games cyclist Catherine Cheatley.

At a table which included two other category winners, she was assured by others it was her World champion status which carried the Saturday night in Wanganui, and it stopped a rugby cleansweep of the major honours.

Heartland Championship winner Wanganui were named Team of the Year, and mentor Tim Lennox Coach of the Year, before the team headed-off Alabaster for the Supreme Sports Award.

Alabaster had to drive home to Taihape after the function, hoping to walk in the town's Relay for Life at 5.30am on Sunday, but conceded today back at work at tiny 18-pupil, two-teacher Taoroa School when she woke she just didn't have the energy. It also meant she had to miss the tangi for 2008 New Zealand champion woolhandler Gina Nathan who died last week.

She said it was exciting for woolhandling competitions to be recognised as sport by the sporting fraternity, after the pioneering efforts of such people as the late Godfrey Bowen, who almost 20 years ago was named a foundation inductee of the national Sports Hall of Fame, and Paul Avery, who won Taranaki's supreme award after a Golden Shears and New Zealand opens double in 2007 - a year before he won the World shearing championship.

Avery is expected to be a favourite for the Taranaki award again later this year, but this week World Champion pairs teammate John Kirkpatrick is among the finalists in the Hawke's Bay sports awards.

Alabaster is unworried by her failure to win any titles on the wool board in the Shearing Sports New Zealand season so far, saying New Zealand's woolhandlers are the best in the world and "it's like a World championships everytime we go out."

Third in the Golden Shears open final in Masterton on March 7, and still to win the prestige "Goldies," she returns to competition at the Taranaki Shears next Sunday (March 29), and a week later will be competing in the New Zealand open championship in Te Kuiti, which she has won three times.

Gina Nathan - Woolhandler - March 19, 2009

ina Nathan - WoolhandlerReigning national woolhandling champion Gina Nathan, who died in Dunedin on Tuesday night, will be brought home to Hawke's Bay tomorrow (Friday) for a tangi at Kahuranaki Marae, Te Hauke.

Aged 49 when she died in hospital from complications after an operation for a lung complaint, she had been one of New Zealand’s top woolhandlers since being coaxed into competition by employers and Alexandra contractors Peter and Elsie Lyon in 1987.

She finished runner-up to fellow Central Otago wooolhandler Patrick Shelford in the national finewool championship in Alexandra at her first attempt, won the title the following year and repeated the victory at least three more times, in 1992, 1997 and 2001.

Originally from the Hastings area but based in Alexandra for almost 30 years, she was later second to Shelford again, in the 1996 World Championship in Masterton, in a 22-year-year open-class career in which she saved the best for the best, with a patient wait for the ultimate triumphs.

She won the Golden Shears open in Masterton in 2005 and 2006, having finished second at least four times, and when she won the New Zealand Championships open final in Te Kuiti in March last year she became only the third shearing sports athlete to win both of the premier titles.

Earlier last season she had also won the New Zeakland Spring Shears title in Waimate and the Southern Shears Open in Gore.

She also twice won the national crossbred lambshearing championships twice at Riversdale, and when she last competed in Winton in January as the championships were revived after a five-year recess she again reached the final and finished fourth.

Her achievements led to her beeing awarded Master Woolhandler status by Shearings Sports New Zealand, chairman John Fagan commenting yesterday she would be a big loss to the industry and the sport.

A 1993 finewool championships programme noted her commitment overseeing the woolhandling during the shearing events, and how even after winning the previous year she worked until well after the final speeches before she could start her own celebrations.

She was also sought after as a woolhandler for World shearing record attempts.

Mrs Lyon told the Otago Daily Times, the star worker had also trained a lot of people in the industry, and was a "perfectionist" who set high standards.

She is at rest in Alexandra before being taken home for a final service which will start at Te Hauke on Sunday at 11am.

Woolhandling Master Gina Nathan Dies - March 18, 2009

Reigning New Zealand woolhandling champion Gina Nathan died in the South Island overnight. Recognised by Shearing Sports New Zealand as a Master Woolhandler, she won the Golden Shears open woolhandling title in 2005 and 2006, and won her first New Zealand open title in Te Kuiti last March, completing a 2007-2008 season in which she also won the prestige New Zealand Spring Shears title in Waimate and the Southern Shears title in Gore.

Illness prevented her from taking her place at last month's Southern Shears, where she was to have competed in an inter-island match.

Expected to be taken home for a tangi at Te Hauke in Hawke's Bay on Saturday, she had for many years been based in Alexandria where she won her first New Zealand Fine Wool open woolhandling title in 1992, one of many titles she had won in an open-class woolhandling career stretching back more than 16 years.

Kirkpatrick bounces back from Golden Shears demise - March 15, 2009

Hawke's Bay shearer John Kirkpatrick has bounced back from the disapopointment of his elimination from the Golden Shears last week by beating winner David Fagan in a competition final northwest of Auckland.

The 38-year-old Kirkpatrick won the open final at the Kumeu Summer Shears today (sunday), beating the 47-year-old Fagan by a point despite being third to finish what became a three-man race in the 20-sheep showdown.

First off was Te Kuiti veteran Digger Balme, taking 16min 7secs, with Fagan, also from Te Kuiti, next off just six seconds later.

Kirkpatrick took 16min 18sec and made up the difference with the better quality points, Fagan finishing second, and third place going to Dean Ball, also of Te Kuiti. World champion Paul Avery, of Taranaki, had to settle for sixth.

Golden Shears winners were left to settle for second-place in two of the other three classes, with Mark Grainger, of Te Kuiti, beating Golden Shears senior champion Ian Kirkpatrick, of Gisborne, and the intermediate title going to Tipene Te Whata, beating Golden Shears winner and fellow Northlander Bevan Guy, of Kaeo.

The Kumeu shears included the second of four tests between New Zealand and Wales, Kirkpatrick and Avery beating visitors Gareth Wyn Daniel and Nicky Beynone by about eight points to go 2-0 up after winning the opening test at the Golden Shears.

MP gets his Shear - March 14, 2009

Kaikoura MP Colin King has shown he is still a deft and with the left hand by winning a shearing competition in Canterbury.

The only left-hander to ever win the Golden Shears open, King, now 59, today won the Open Plate at the Cheviot A and P Show. Although slowest of the three shearers in the contest, taking 5min 31.32sec for four sheep, he displayed all the best of the quality from three victories at Golden Shears in the 1980 to eventually claim victory by almost three points from runner-up Hamish Hammond, of Culverden. Third was Rangiora shearer Richard Sampey, who was first off the board in 5min 18.38sec.

King's time and quality points totalled 26.066, Hammond's 28.969 and Sampey's 31.169.

The second-term National MP is preparing to shear in a jubilee event at the New Zealand shearing championships in Te Kuiti on April 2-4, as one of only six open final winners in the 25 years of the event. Others include hometown hero and 16-times winner David Fagan, who last week won his 16th Golden Shears title in Masterton, at the age of 47.

King won a Golden Shears-NZ Open double in 1987, while farming near Otorohanga, having previously won the Golden Shears in 1982 and 1986.

The Cheviot open championship was won by Troy Shirley, while further south Hawke's Bay shearer Cam Ferguson won the second open title of his career at the Mayfield A and P Show.

Shears Stars in Action - March 13, 2009

New Zealand's top shearers are wasting no time getting back into action again by taking to another weekend of shear excitement just a week after a dramatic finsih to the Golden Shears in Masterton.

Most are heading to the Kumeu Summer Shears, a two-fay championships which on Saturday features the second of four tests between New Zealand's World champion team of Paul Avery and John Kirkpatrick, and the Welsh team of Nicky Beynon and Gareth Wyn Daniel... All four are then expected to be in the Kumeu Open field the next day, Kirkpatrick particularly keen to make-up for for his demise in the Golden Shears where he failed to make the final for the first time in 13 years, being eliminated by the penalty for a single cut on one of the 10 sheep in his semi-final.

The Napier shearer will be motivated by the appearance of King Country icon David Fagan, who confirmed last night he would compete in Kumeu just a week after winning his 16th Golden Shears Open.

The 47-year-old has won the Kumeu title five times, and a sixth would take him to just nine wins short of a career total of 600 wins in an Open-class career spanning 26 seasons.competitions since February 1983.

"Wouldn't that be nice," he reiterated at his Te Kuiti home.

Most of the country's top shearers will continue on a path across the North Island showcasing smaller town New Zealand over the remaining weeks of the season, with the Waimarino Shears at Raetihi on March 21, the Waitomo Caves Shears and Taranaki Shears on March 28 and 29, the New Zealand Championships in Te Kuiti on April 2-4, and the Auckland Easter Show's Northern Shears on April 10-12.

In the South Island, the Mayfield and Cheviot A and P show competitions are both scheduled for this weekend, the Flaxbourne show in Marlborough is on March 21, and the Oxford Shears in Canterbury end the southern season on April 4.

Golden Shears - March 08, 2009

Shearing icon David Fagan produced one of the most stunning of his 590 open-class winning efforts to claim his 16th Golden Shears open title in Masterton last night - 23 years after his first in 1986.

The 47-year-old from Te Kuiti had also won the tiitle 12 times in a row from 1990 to 2001, and again in 2004 and 2005, but was left emotional and, like everyone in a crowd of 1500, stunned.

"It's unbelievable," he said amid the acclaim, which restored him to the ranks of New Zealand's very best sportsmen, although in a career which has also produced five individual World titles, along with an MNZM in 1999 and an ONZM in 2007, he is yet to reach the elite of New Zealand sport's Royal Albert, the Halberg Awards.

He featured in a remarkable final in which just 52 seconds separated the six finalists after 20 sheep - a rare occasion on which all other five finalists were onto their last sheep as the magical Fagan flailed the wand that was his Supershear Viper handpiece down the last side, pressed the button, despatched the last ovine and claimed time honours by less than 1.5 seconds from 2006 winner Dion King, of Napier.

With Fagan taking just 15min 56.96sec, they were the only shearers to cut under 16 minutes, with a further 14 seconds back to World champion Paul Avery, of Stratford, beating Te Kuiti gun Dean Ball by a couple of blows, with five seconds back to surprise finalist Jerome McCrea, of Wanganui, and 17 back to Whangamomona-based Scottish hope Gavin Mutch.

The 33-year-old King, who like Fagan had won just one other title this summer, had made one tragic blow however, one single cut ruining his hopes when the judges slapped a maximum penalty in pen judging outside, relegating him to sixth overall and mirroring the fate of pre-championships favourite, reigning champion and fellow Napier shearer John Kirkpatrick who suffered a similar demise in being eliminated in the afternoon's semi-finals.

Making the best run through the middle was the 42-year-old Avery, as both he and Ball, 41, both got within a point of the winner in the final count. Fagan totaled 58.088pts when the time and quality penalties were calculated, the 2005 and 2007 champion Avery scoring 58.607 to repeat his second placing of last year, and former New Zealand open champion Ball stopping on 58.832. Mutch, 29, was fourth on 59.116 as just 1.18 points covered the leading quartet.

Ball, who had travelled with Fagan to most of the competitions in which they had competed during the season, was left wondering how he might ever pick-off the big one, and said: "Either way, we just wanted one of us to take it back to Te Kuiti. I'm just rapt he got it. It couldn't have gone to a better guy."

Fagan's previous win this year had been at Marton last month, after which he had pondered 11 wins to go to his 600th victory saying: "Wouldn't that be nice, but it's a long way to go..."

Asked at the time if he he had a goal," he said: "I have," but last night would not confirm if his victory had achieved it.

"It's just like it's a dream come true," he said. "I always wanted to try and get Sweet 16, it's just nice to still be amongst it with these guys. I don't know how the hell you beat them, I really don't. They"re just so bloody good."

"It's very unfortunate what happened to Johnny in the semi-final, but the rest of them - Paul, Dean, the rest of them, I feel very, very honoured to still be able to beat them, every now and again."

He then confirmed he would continue to bug them, by contesting the remaining competitions on the 66-show Shearing Sports New Zealand circuit, from Kumeu next weekend through seeking his 16th New Zealand open title in Te Kuiti at the end of the month.

Avery had to settle for second again in the night's other individual feature, the final of the PGG Wrightson National Series, won by Rakaia shearer Tony Coster. Fagan was not among the opposition, having announced last year when he won the crown for an eighth time he would not be traipsing it's five qualifying rounds in 2008-2009.

Kirkpatrick, 38, showed considerable steel to come back from his demise as a $1.60 TAB favourite in the open to win the plate for the six eliminated semi-finalists, and claimed a bit of payback as he, Fagan's nephew (Te Kuiti farmer James Fagan), and Invercargill gun Nathan Stratford took New Zealand to a narrow win over the Australian team of Jason Wingfield, Shannon Warnest and Damian Boyle in the second-leg of the annual home-and-away transtasman series.

Australian World championship team members Wingfield and Warnest created history by being first and second on individual points, a first for Australia in New Zealand since the series was initiated in 1974, but it wasn't enough to block the Kiwis who won by less than a point in the closest test on a New Zealand board.

It avenged a loss in the first leg in Hay, NSW, in November, and gave New Zealand a cleansweep of three tests at the Golden Shears, after a Friday-night double in which Avery and Kirkpatrick beat Welshmen Nicky Beynon and Gareth Daniel in the first of four tests this month, and the Kiwi woolhandling team of Gisborne teenager Joel Henare and Te Awamutu’s Keryn Herbert completed a 2-0 transtasman series triumph in beating Australians Rachel Hutchison and Angela Wakely.

There was a hometown triumph as Tina Rimene, of Masterton, won her third Golden Shears open woolhandling title. Most recently based in Dannevirke, she previously won the event in 1994 and 1997. Henare was second, remaining two-short of the 15-win criteria to elevate him to Master Woolhandler status before he turns 18, World champion Sheree Alabaster, of Taihape, was third, and surprise finalist Penny Kerekere, of Gisborne, was fourth.

Gisborne's Ian Kirkpatrick and 2008 intermediate champion won the senior shearing title, the second step took in a goal to emulate the feat of famed “Uncle Johnny” who scored a similar intermediate-senior double in 1993 and 1994 before first winning the open title in 2002 and becoming the only person to win Golden hears titles in three grades.

Bevan Guy, of Kaeo, won the intermediate title on Saturday, and Jake Rangiwai, of Mataura, won the junior final, emulating the feats of brothers Maaka and Phillip who won the title in 2006 and 2007 respectively.

The Golden Shears senior woolhandling final was won by Ratapu Paikea, of Northland, and Fiona Christensen, of Masterton, won the junior final, becoming the first shears athlete to win in two disciplines, having earlier won the women’s woolpressing singles and pairs titles, the latter with Masterton teenager Cushla Gordon.

The woolpressing events provided emotional hometown triumphs for the Goodyer family, after one brother, Warwick, had been paralysed in a road crash just weeks after he and older brother Jeremy won their third successive pairs title last year.

Jeremy was joined by another brother, Vinnie, in winning the title again, after they were first and second respectively in the singles.

Amid the drama of the night there was a major victory for the sport, with recognition from SPARC via performance grants to the 2008 World championships team of machine shearers Avery and Kirkpatrick, woolhandlers Alabaster and Joanne Kumeroa, and Timaru blade shearers Peter Race and Bill Michelle, after their victories and top-three placings in Norway in October.

Golden Shears Open Finalists - March 07, 2009

Hot favourite and reigning champion John Kirkpatrick is a shock omission from tonight's Golden Shears open final after being elimated in the semi-finals at the 49th championships in Masterton today.

Napier-based Kirkpatrick, winner of 13 finals in 17 attempts since returning home from the World championships in Norway in October and earlier this week quoted a $1.60 favourite by the TAB, finished last of the 12 semi-finalists.

The top six for the final were headed by World champion and Taranaki farmer Paul Avery, going for his third Golden Shears open after winning in 2005 and 2007. He was closely followed by 2006 winner Dion King, of Napier, and the 47-year-old 15-times winner David Fagan, of Te Kuiti. Taranaki-based Scotsman Gavin Mutch was fourth qualifier, followed by Te Kuiti veteran Dean Ball, and surprise qualifier Jerome McCrea, of Wanganui.
Qualifiiers in order with results from the 10-sheep semi-final were:

Paul Avery (Stratford) 8min 36.07sec, 31.504pts, 1;
Dion King (Napier) 8min 41.13sec, 32.156pts, 2
David Fagan (Te Kuiti) 8min 55.19sec, 33.06pts, 3
Gavin Mutch (Whangamomona) 9min 10.84sec, 33.642pts, 4
Dean Ball (Te Kuiti) 9min 12.66sec, 33.733pts, 5
Jerome McRea (Wanganui) 8min 41.18sec, 34.759pts, 6

Further info: Doug Laing ph 0274-690644

The final over 20 sheep will start at 9.37pm.

Shearing Sports Tests - March 06, 2009

New Zealand has scored a cleansweep in two test matches on an historic second night at the 49th Golden Shears in Masterton.

The victories included a comfortable win by Shearing Sports New Zealand's team of World champion shearers Paul Avery and John Kirkpatrick over Welshman Nicky Beynon and Gareth Daniels, the first shearing test between New Zealand and any team from the United Kingdom to be held in New Zealand.

The disparity was noted by Beynon who noted there had been tests between New Zealand and Wales in the UK at regular intervals over the last 19 years. He was proud to be involved in the series of three tests this month.

New Zealand won by almost 17 points - 80'984pts to 97.761. In a 12-sheep event, Avery was first off in 10min 34sec, with Kirkpatrick completing his job in 10min 57.34sec. Daniels took 11min 43.74sec, and Beynon shore for more than a minute-and-a-half on his own before finishing in 13min 16.47sec. The Kiwis also easily dominated the quality points and are favoured to score a back-to-back cleansweep, having beaten Wales 3-0 in the UK last year.

The other victory came in the woolhandling leg of the annual home-and-away transtasman series, with Joel Henare and Keryn Herbert beating Australians Rachel Hutchison and Angela Wakely by 30.2pts. The Kiwis scored 605pts on the penalty-based system, and Australia 635.2.

A shearing test between New Zealand and Australia will be held on Saturday night, the last night of Golden Shears.

Golden Shears - TAB Odds - March 04, 2009

In-form Hawke's Bay shearer John Kirkpatrick has been made a hot-favourite to win his third Golden Shears open title, in the TAB odds announced today on the eve of the start of the 49th international shearing and woolhandling championships in Masterton.

Kirkpatrick, the winner of 13 open finals in 17 competitions in New Zealand this summer, has opened paying $1.60, more than a clear point ahead of fellow two-times winner Paul Avery, of Taranaki, who opened at $4.00, having won six finals in New Zealand since beating Kirkpatrick in the World Championships final in Norway in October.

Te Kuiti veteran and former New Zealand open champion Dean Ball has edged into third on the list an $8-shot to win the coveted title for the first time, after winning the highly-ranked Pahiatua Shears title last Sunday, resulting in the TAB offering surprisingly lucrative odds on 47-year-old David Fagan, who after winning the Rangitikei Sports open last month and maintaining regular form among the top competitiors, is a $10 shot to win the title for a 16th time. Kirpatrick, 38, won the title for the first time in 2002, when he became the first person to beat Fagan in the 20-sheep Golden Shears open final since Southland shearer Edsel Forde won in 1989. Kirkpatrick won the title in an all-conquering season last year,beating Avery who had won in 2005 and 2007.

Te Kuiti showman Digger Balme, who has one win behind him this year, joins the only other former champion in the field, Napier shearer Dion King, and the South Island's leading hope, Invercargill shearer Nathan Stratford on the fifth line at $15.

All will have to make it safely through three qualifying stages in the championships which start with novice and junior class events tomorrow (thursday). More than 80 shearers will compete in the open heats on Friday, many aiming just make the cut of 30 for the quarterfinals that night. the semi-finals for the top 12 will be on Saturday afternoon, leading to the naming of international shearing's most elite six for the final on Saturday night.

Meanwhile, Stratford has opened a warm favourite for the PGG Wrightson National final which will also be shorn on Saturday night, the first time the TAB will have run pools on two events at Golden Shears.

It has gone with Stratford's place as the top qualifier among 12 for Saturday morning's national semi-final, after five qualifying rounds at Alexandra (merino), Waimate (long-wool), Christchurch (Corriedale), Raglan (lambs) and Pahiatua (second-shear). But no South Islander has won the National since 2004, despite a perception it favours the merino shearers of the south. Stratford, who was top qualifier in the first two rounds of heats, starts at $2.20, with last year-s runner-up, James Fagan, who won the New Zealand Merino Championships final at Alexandra, second favourite at $4.

Kirpatrick and Avery were given exemption from competing at the opening event at Alexandra because oftheir absence at the World championships, have both reached the National semi-final, but are not known for their expertise on the merino sheep which comprise half the sheep in the semi-final, while the final is over three sheep from each of the five wool types.

Download TAB odds for Golden Shears Open Championship and PGG Wrightson National here

Golden Shears Prelude - March 01, 2009

Te Kuiti veteran Dean Ball loomed into Golden Shears calculations when he beat a star-studded field in the Pahiatua Shears today.

It was his third win in an open final this season, and among the vanquished were hot-running John Kirkpatrick and Paul Avery, the reigning World champions.

They won at Taumarunui and Apitii respectively on Friday and Saturday as Shearing Sports New Zealand's season closed-in on the 49th Golden Shears starting in Masterton on Thursday. Napier shearer Kirkpatrick, with 13 wins this season is the favourite to win a third Golden Shears title (Having won in 2002 and last year), followed by Avery, the World individual champion who won the Golden Shears title in 2005 and 2007.

Also among the beaten today was 15-times Golden Shears champion and five-times World champion David Fagan, also of Te Kuiti.

Meanwhile, another former World champion and Golden Shears winner was a surprise fourth placegetter at the last South Island competition before Masterton's big event. Kaikoura MP Colin King won the Golden Shears three times in the 1980s and remains a consistent supporter of his local show, often in a commentating role.




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