Long-serving Hawke's Bay indoor bowls representative Bruce Dalton reckons the time has come for him to receive an over-due birthday present.
"To qualify for the Welch Trophy inter-district final would mean a huge amount. It's the Ranfurly Shield of indoor bowls," Dalton, who will turn 74 next week, remarked.
Teams qualify for the Welch Trophy tournament by winning their respective Paterson Trophy zone tournaments and Dalton, the oldest member of the Hawke's Bay team for this weekend's Zone 2 qualifying tournament in Napier, has been trying since 1994.
"Every year my birthday is always just after the Paterson Trophy weekend. While there will be many of the country's best players here this weekend I'm confident we can do our best. It's a very much an on the day thing but the home-hall mats are an advantage.
"You only get that opportunity once every five years as the other regions in our zone get a turn at hosting as well," Dalton explained referring to Waikato, Tauranga, Bay of Plenty and Poverty Bay.
The Pirimai club player will play three for the Michael Brown-skipped Hawke's Bay A four as well as singles and pairs throughout the weekend.
Dalton took up indoor bowls when living in Taranaki in 1986 and has been playing in the Bay since 1987. He made his Hawke's Bay debut in 1990.
"What I like about it is the fact you can play against people of all ages. Poverty Bay will have three juniors under the age of 16 this weekend and they're not here just to make up the numbers. Men can play against women and people in wheelchairs can play against able-bodied people at the same level," Dalton said.
While Dalton has yet to win a national title in any discipline of the code he has recorded two second placings and three thirds. He rates reaching the fours final at the 1995 nationals with his wife June, Darryl Le Claire and Dot Atkins as the highlight of his time in the sport.
Hawke's Bay won the their Paterson Trophy zone in 1989 and 1991. The six zone winners will qualify for the 68th Welch Trophy inter-district final at the Pukekohe Cosmopolitan Club from September 6-8.
Welch Trophy holders Manawatu will start the Zone 3 qualifying tournament in Otorohanga as the favourites. Counties will host the Zone 1 playoffs in Pukekohe, North Wellington will host the Zone 4 playoffs in Titahi Bay, Golden Bay-Motueka will host the Zone 5 playoffs and Southland will host the Zone 6 playoffs.
Zone 2 Paterson Trophy holders Waikato have won the trophy 23 times since it was introduced in 1964 and dominated the Welch Trophy in the 50s, 60s, 80s and 90s winning 20 times overall but their last Welch Trophy success was in 2006.
Their team includes two Mat Blacks, Teri Anderson and Joy Archer, two former New Zealand representatives, Maureen Pruden and Linda McCurdy, and three current North Island representatives Richard Caddy, David Archer and Shaun Blackbourn. Caddy, Pruden and Blackbourn were members of the Welch Trophy-winning team in 2006.
Tauranga won the Paterson Trophy nine times - in 1999, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2017 - but have yet to win the Welch Trophy. They will be spearheaded by New Zealand representatives Paul Smith and Fiona Keegan.
Tauranga boast an in-form team with players who featured at the national championships.
Mike Phipps won titles in the pairs and triples, Lorraine Phipps one title in the triples and earned her national championship gold star, Smith was runner-up in the open singles and combined with Keegan and Geoff Coughey to finish third equal in the open triples, Val Hagan was runner-up in the masters singles and third equal in the masters pairs.
Anthony Ouellet was runner-up in the junior singles last year while Roger Bartosh has a Welch Trophy medal from 2006 with Waikato and won the masters pairs in 2016.
Coughey, who is a former North Island rep, was a member of the winning mixed pair at the recent North Island Eastern Zone final.
Bay of Plenty won the Welch Trophy in 1966 and 1969 but have not won the Paterson Trophy since.
They will be led by the North Island reserve Robin Porter and the Northern Zone Masters rep Derek Owen. Sam Bryant who was a reserve for the successful Auckland team in 2017, Gina Owen a former Mat Black and Ciaran Blackbourn who was a reserve for the North Island Academy combine with Porter.
Derek Owen's team is Simon Hatcher Gavin Rennie and Tom Orr. They have combined well in Bay of Plenty tournaments this season.
Poverty Bay has yet to be successful at this level.
The teams are:
Hawkes Bay: A Team: Michael Brown (s), Bruce Dalton, Mark Appleby, Mike Appleby; B Team: Erik Chilton (s), Stephen Clinch, Sue Taylor, David Vesty. Reserve: Nigel Parker; Manager: Sue Fleming.
Waikato: A Team: Richard Caddy (s), Teri Anderson, Linda McCurdy, Matthew Farquhar; B Team: David Archer (s), Shaun Blackbourn, Maureen Pruden, Joy Archer. Reserve: Amber McNally; Manager: Barry Chapman.
Tauranga: A Team: Paul Smith (s), Mike Phipps, Anthony Ouellet, Fiona Keegan; B Team: Geoff Coughey (s), Roger Bartosh, Lorraine Phipps, Val Hagan. Reserve: Carl Jamieson; Manager: Graham Caie.
Bay of Plenty: A Team: Robin Porter (s), Sam Bryant, Gina Owen, Ciaran Blackbourn; B Team: Derek Owen (s), Simon Hatcher, Gavin Rennie, Tom Orr. Reserve: Jacque Porter; Manager: Kristine East.
Poverty Bay: A Team: David Lynn (s), Jay Casey, Bryan Pulley, Dylan Foster; B Team: Malcolm Trowell (s), Nathan Trowell, Akuhata Keelan, Mathew Foster. Reserve: Coralie Campbell Whitehead; Manager: Bruce Easton.