Ian McKinnon is one of the most experienced triallists in the game, and his dog Tess has made the top five at a New Zealand run-off in the past, but it took until the very last leg of the domestic series in Mangonui last weekend for the pair to secure their berth at the upcoming nationals.

The pair did it in style too by delivering a near perfect 99-point effort in the long head event at Landcorp Rangiputa to hold off Leo Jecentho and Smoke by half a point.

The result was even more remarkable considering it was only the third start by Tess on this year's circuit, due to McKinnon being otherwise engaged with work commitments.

"I needed that win to qualify. She knows what to do," McKinnon said of Tess' performance.

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He noted the dog is no stranger to competing at elite level; she was runner-up in the New Zealand long head title in Taihape four years ago, but the upcoming event will probably be the 9-year-old bitch's last nationals campaign.

The pair will definitely be considered as strong contenders in the week-long nationals, not least because it is being held on the familiar turf of Mt Ahu Ahu near Kaikohe at the end of this month.

Of course, McKinnon is going to be there regardless of whether Tess had qualified or not. As a member of the hosting Bay of Islands Sheep Dog Trial Club, he is in charge of running the bar.

Tess was one of six dogs that qualified for the 2019 nats from the Mangonui trial last Friday and Saturday. Others to make the cut were Barney Strong and Queen from Turangi, alongside the dogs of Mike Moody, Roddy Thompson, Duncan Gilligan and Grant West.

They now join a field of more than 450 dogs from all over New Zealand vying for a variety of national titles in the Far North.

A report from the Mangonui trial, the 12th and final leg of the Northland Sheep Dog Trial Centre's annual circuit, is forthcoming. The series offered competitors a chance to qualify their dogs for the 2019 New Zealand Sheep Dog Trial National and North Island Championships, which this year are being held on Mt Ahu Ahu near Kaikohe from May 27 to June 1.