Meet Kenny Mokaraka, Kaikohe's 10-year-old bowling prodigy

By Peter de Graaf

It's pretty unusual for a 10-year-old to make the trials for a national under-18 sports team - but Kenny Mokaraka is a pretty unusual talent.  

The Kaikohe 10-year-old was the youngest recipient of a Far North District Council sports award in a glitzy ceremony at Te Ahu last month, and this month he heads off to a training camp where he'll trial for the national under-18 lawn bowls team.  

So, all going well, Kenny could be representing his country before he hits his 11th birthday.  

The Year 6 pupil at Kaikohe East School lives with his grandparents Rose Timoko and Chester Ruawhare, and has been a full member of the Kaikohe Bowling Club since he was eight.  

Kenny says he started playing at the age of five, when his grandfather would take him to the club and let him ''roll a few balls''.  

It's not his only sport - he's also keen on rugby, touch and swimming - but the appeal of bowling is the combination of exercise, making new friends, fresh air and fun.  

As the only youth player in Kaikohe he has to play against the grown-ups, many of whom have been taken by surprise after assuming a 10-year-old would be an easy beat.  

Last year he won the club's tournament for first-year players, then went on to do the same in the Bowls Far North first-year champs - seeing off a rival 40 years his senior.  

Proud grandmother Rose Timoko says Kenny is ''a natural'' who loves any sport. He got into bowls when a medical condition kept him off the rugby field for two years.  

''He plays with all the adults, and everybody get on with him so well.''  

Mrs Timoko hopes her moko will represent New Zealand and travel the world.  

''But I'm very proud of all he's achieved already,'' she says.  

Kaikohe Bowling Club president Dion Davis says Kenny isn't the only youngster to come along to the club and try the sport - but he is the only one so far to take it seriously.  

''He actually watches and studies how the game is played. He gets the tactics, the strategy behind the game. A lot of us play with him because of that. We don't have to hold his hand, he plays at an adult level.''  

The first adult member Kenny beat was Noel Bonner, a player of 26 years' experience. And you can bet Noel won't be the last.  

''He's never been knocked out in the first round of any club champs he's played, which I certainly have. That's quite impressive,'' Mr Davis says.  

Kenny is currently trialling for the national under-18s team and is the only Far North player heading to a Bowls New Zealand youth training camp in Auckland this month.  

Mr Davis hopes he'll follow in the footsteps of Kaitaia's Monte Pawa Jnr, who plays in the New Zealand under-18s and already has an Australasian title under his belt.  

The two players, however, are following different paths. Monte started in the youth division, but because Kenny is the only player his age in Kaikohe he has gone straight into the J5 open men's division.  

''He's very mature, and robust in the way he handles what can be a stressful game. He copes well with it. He's as determined on his first bowl as he is on his last, which is the sign of a good player.''  

The sport takes Kenny all over Northland in his grandparents' campervan - he often competes in the mixed doubles with his Nanna - and as far away as Rotorua. His awards so far include the Bowls Far North Youth Player of the Year 2012 and the Youth Achievement Award for Bowls in the 2012 Far North District Council Sports Awards.

  Kenny's advice for anyone hoping to make it big in bowls is simple:  ''Just be natural. Trust in yourself.''

- Northern Advocate

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