Mount Maunganui's Tayla Ford has emerged from the National Wrestling Championships as arguably New Zealand's best medal prospect at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.
Ford was all class going through Saturday unbeaten at ASB Stadium, Te Awamutu Events Centre, winning both the female 63kg and 69kg weight categories.
The 2014 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist beat Simone Reynolds (Taieri) and Michelle Montague (Hamilton Hawks) respectively in the finals, both on points.
Ford followed on from where she left off at the Oceania Championships earlier in the year when picking up three falls in three matches to secure the gold medal at 63kg. Ford has won a gold medal at the Oceania Championships in each of the last four years.
Te Awamutu was the first step in qualifying for the Commonwealth Games. Any wrestler wishing to make the Games team needed to win a senior weight division on Saturday.
"You could certainly see the pressure take its toll on some of the wrestlers, while the emotion was there for all to see in those that won at the weekend with so much at stake," Te Awamutu YMI coach Jason Strawbridge said.
"Those who kept their games hopes alive by winning must still win their senior division at next year's Oceania Championships [in May] to be considered for selection."
Tawa Tigers' imported Indian wrestler Akash Khuller showed his class going through four matches unbeaten to secure the 74kg gold medal. He is yet to be beaten in the two years since his arrival.
There was considerable interest in the 97kg bout between Khuller's brother, Manav, and Rangiora's Sam Belkin who won a bronze medal representing New Zealand at the last Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and has represented his country for several years.
The atmosphere was electric as the two grapplers went hammer and tongs early on, in order to gain the ascendancy. Sadly, when appearing to get on top, Khuller popped his ribs while trying to roll his opponent on to his back. The bout stopped for four minutes while he got medical attention.
Khuller attempted to continue, only to be pinned shortly after and suffer more pain.
The match of the weekend featured two juniors wrestling up in senior ranks. Jordan Marshall (Hamilton Hawks) won an epic encounter 12-11 against Matthew Oxenham (Club Physical Auckland) that had the large crowd on the edge of their seats.