Hawke's Bay's Matariki Maaka is the first to admit she has qualified for this weekend's Aotearoa National Maori Bowls tournament through the back door.

National Service Club's Maaka is referring to the fact she and teammates, skip Diana Wood of the Napier club, three Laurel Edwards of the Omarunui club and two Denise Herbert of the Hastings club got together to make sure there were an even number of women's teams and they won't be eligible for the national title in the Bowls Kahungunu-hosted event which will be played tomorrow and Sunday.

But that doesn't mean they will be taking things easy.

"We're as competitive as ever and want to upset the others. We want to add some fun to the mix and push some of the big names out," lead Maaka said.


A second-year bowler, Maaka, is the tournament secretary and she will be having her first taste of playing in the national event.

"I got asked to help out on the committee. It has taken so much time to organise I thought it would be good to play in it."

While Wood and Edwards are senior players Maaka and Herbert are still in the junior ranks.

"It will be our first time playing together but I'm fully confident in what we can all bring," former netballer Maaka said.

"I used to follow our children around with their sports and now it's time for me to have my own sport."

Coached by Bowls Kahungunu president Mike Tamati, Maaka, said she wants to master the basics before pushing for rep selection.

"We're so lucky here at the club to have so many players who have been through the rep scene and are happy to help us out with tips. I can't wait to experience the whanaungatanga of the tournament which involves players from all over the country ... it's an exciting opportunity," she added.

Among the visiting players will be Haki Watene from the Te Atatu club. He will lead for a Tamaki Makaurau-registered team skipped by Tamati with John Tukuafu at three and David Gemmell at two.


Watene, 66, played in the first Aotearoa Maori nationals in 1975 before having a break from the sport and returning to it in 1988.

"It's the only tournament I play in. I haven't won any titles yet but have made the top 16 and top 8 on occasions. Those Saturday night functions can get to you," he joked.

"We will try and go further this weekend but the priority is whanaungatanga and catching up with relations. I had five daughters and used to coach some of their teams at the national Maori netball tournament, now we follows teams with grand children and great grand children in. I like to follow the nice young players coming through in all of our sports," Watene added.

A Kahungunu team of skip Gaylene Harvey and three Natarsha Grimshaw of Bowls Hastings and Wellingtonians, two Tanya Wheeler and led Kaaren Guilford will attempt to go back-to-back in the women's division.

Bowls Taradale's Lillian Tukiri and Bay View's Mere Nepia skip other fancied Kahungunu women's teams.

Nepia has former New Zealand rep Sharon Sims as her three.

Defending men's champions, skip Ray Lovie, three Dean Stratford, two Merv Jakeman and lead Richard Nixon of Whanganui-a-Tara will attempt to capture a second consecutive title.

Bay View's Guy Taylor and Wayne Parker skip two of the fancied Kahungunu men's teams.

For the second consecutive year a trophy will be presented to the best under-20 player in the event.

Teams eligible for the premier men's and women's titles can have one non-Maori player but that bowler isn't allowed to skip.

The 45th annual tournament has attracted 98 teams, 56 men's and 42 women's. While the National Service club is the event's headquarters greens at Bowls Napier, Bowls Omarunui, Bowls Hastings and Kia Toa will also be used.

Each team will play five qualifying games on Saturday.

The top 16 men's and women's teams after Saturday's play will be divided into four round-robin groups for Sunday.

The top four teams after round robin-play will qualify for the semifinals.

Flight divisions will cater for teams which don't make the top 16.

The men's and women's finals will be played alongside each other at the National Service Club from 3.45pm on Sunday.