There was plenty of jostling for viewing space at the entrance to the snooker room at the Havelock North Club today.
Spectators wanted a glimpse of 10-year-old Paraparaumu player Riley James playing his first match at the Oceania under-21 tournament. That's right ... a 10-year-old, the youngest cueist in the event.
"I'm hoping to qualify for the quarterfinals. But it's good to come and get experience at this level and have a bit of fun," James said after his 4-2 loss to Aussie Denzel Nicholson.
New Zealand's youngest representative, James was 9 when he travelled to last year's world under-18 champs in China.
"I didn't qualify but I enjoyed the experience," he recalled.
The Kenakena School year 6 student had his first taste of snooker as an eight-year-old, three years after dabbling in pool on the smaller tables.
"I had always liked watching the great snooker players on television and I remember being down at Club Vista at Paraparaumu Beach with my Dad [Garry] and asking if I could have a turn. I got a couple of shots and I missed a couple.
"I liked it so much that Dad got Chris Barnett [convener of the club's cue sports adjunct] to come and watch me. He told me 'you can't play' but Dad told him to watch and see what I could do ... Chris said 'you can play'," James, who is part Vietnamese through his mother Mia, recalled.
A former rugby player who still plays football, left hander James, said snooker is his No 1 sport these days.
"I want to become a professional and be No 1 in the world," James said.
There's no doubt he will have time on his side in his quest to tick these goals off. But what are his other strengths?
"Keeping calm and not worrying if I win or lose. It's all about having fun and playing for experience. Potting is another strength," James replied.
And his work-ons?
"Playing more position and improving my technique. It's important not to over think too."
His match with Nicholson was controlled by international referee Iskander Perwira of Malaysia. Nicholson impressed with all aspects of the game but in particular his safety play.
New Zealand Billiards and Snooker Federation president Dan O'Sullivan is impressed with the talent throughout the field of 16.
"A few of us were having a chat and attempting to predict the four semifinalists. We all agreed on the top three but several players could get the fourth spot ... it's that close."
James' coach, long-time cue sports mentor Stan Bunn of Taranaki, sees plenty of potential in the youngster.
"Riley is the best of any player I have seen at his age. He is a good academic as well so he has a good attention span and he is able to do whatever he is asked to do. Riley's good parenting is also an asset," Bunn said.
All three Hawke's Bay players, Sam Martin, Marcus Moat and Michaela Spencer, had yet to complete any of their Day 2 matches when Hawke's Bay Today went to press today. Moat, who lost his opening match 4-2 to Aussie No 1 Alex Pace on Sunday, was taking on Wellingtonian Cody Turner in his 4pm clash and was then scheduled to play Aussie Harry Mok in his 6pm encounter.
Martin, who beat Aussie Hilton Moeahu 4-0 on Sunday, was to play Spencer in his 4pm match and defending champion and top seed Mario Hildred of Taranaki in his 6pm clash. Hildred beat Spencer 4-0 on Sunday.
Canterbury's Adam Lilley has recorded the highest break of the tournament to date with 84. Bunn's 16-year-old son, Denin Bunn, started his Day 2 campaign with two wins beside his name.
The final of the tournament is scheduled for 5pm on Wednesday after the transtasman test and the Oceania Masters for men and women will be played from Thursday until Saturday.
Multiple national champion in a variety of cue sports, Bayden Jackson, is the only Hawke's Bay player entered in the field of 16.