The top of the South Island is emerging as an unlikely leader in all-breeds shearing with the possibility four shearers from the Nelson-Marlborough region and the West Coast will be among the 12 qualifiers for New Zealand's premier all-breeds championship finals at the Golden Shears in Masterton in March.
The possibility has arisen after last week's New Zealand Corriedale Championships, in Christchurch, the third of five qualifying rounds in the PGG Wrightson National, incorporating the McSkimming Memorial Triple Crown.
The series opened with the finewool round at the New Zealand Merino Championships in Alexandra and the longwool of the New Zealand Spring Shears in Waimate last month, and continues with the national lambshearing championships at Raglan's Western Shears next month, and the second-shear sheep of the Pahiatua Shears at the end of February.
Points range from 12 for the top qualifiers in the heats at each event to one for 12th, and defending champion Angus Moore, the now South Otago-based farmers' son from Ward and a former head boy at Marlborough Boys College, has cemented his place with 11 points, to go with three from the opening round at the New Zealand Merino Championships and 10 a week later on the long-wool of the New Zealand Spring Shears in Waimate.
Blenheim concrete-pumping contractor and 51-year-old now part-time shearer Tony Nott, who last week said he had entered the series for the first and probably last time so he could support Moore in his quest for another title and encourage other young shearers, will almost certainly also qualify, having been fourth in Friday's heats to card nine points on top of the nine picked up in the opening two rounds.
West Coast shearer and surprise Corriedale Championships final winner Jason Win and Renwick veteran Chris Jones are knocking at the door of qualifying, with 11 points each, the threshold for 12th place after the final two rounds on lambs at Raglan in January and second-shear strongwool at Pahiatua in February having ranged in recent years from 12-16 points.
Win, now based in Australia, headed the qualifiers last season but had to settle for sixth in the final, shorn on all five wool types.
Three-times series winner Tony Coster, of Rakaia, and regular qualifier Grant Smith, also of Rakaia, lead the series with 27 and 26 points respectively, while new Shearing Sports New Zealand chairman Gavin Rowland is also nearly assured of qualifying, on 15.
Napier's reigning Golden Shears and New Zealand Open champion John Kirkpatrick is the only North Island shearer in the top 12.
The South has the overall advantage, with 24 wins to 16.