There will be a lot on the line when this year's Northland Sheep Dog Trial Centre championship gets under way this weekend.
Many competitors are seeking to qualify for the nationals which are being run in the Far North later this year and where the laws of local knowledge and home advantage could reap dividends.
Sitting firmly in the ranks of those holding good odds of qualifying is veteran campaigner Ken Whittaker. The Okaihau farmer has enjoyed plenty of success at domestic, regional and national levels, having featured an estimated 20 times in the final run-off at the nationals and/or the respective North or South Island championships.
The holder of the New Zealand long head title which he won with the late, great Doc in Masterton in 2011, Whittaker is among a group of dedicated local shepherds who are planning on covering plenty of ground in the next few weeks to boost the odds of qualifying.
To make the nationals a dog needs six points from a system which gives five points for a win and one point for fifth place; thus a first place finish in the short head and yard, backed up by a fifth in the long head event at any centre event — here or elsewhere — wins the canine a berth at the New Zealand championships.
Whittaker's campaign gets under way today where he will be running three dogs at the Papakura trial, part of the Waikato SDTC circuit, before getting his domestic campaign started by competing at the Helensville trial on Saturday. He made no secret of his goals.
"I'd like to qualify [again]," he said, albeit emphasising another priority was to support the local up and comers, "young fellows who have [only] been going a few years", who have progressed steadily through the ranks in recent seasons.
Another hitting the road this week is Sean Haynes, also of Okaihau. He is taking three heading dogs to Papakura to compete alongside Whittaker today, returning to run at Helensville tomorrow and then making a long trip south to compete at a Taranaki Centre event on Saturday. Haynes admitted all that travelling did sound a tad extreme.
"We wouldn't normally do this [long distance thing] but with the nationals being up here, we want to try and qualify as early as possible," he said.
Haynes is helping to organise the 2019 Tux North Island New Zealand Sheep Dog Trial National Championships at Mt Ahu Ahu from May 16-20.
* The Northland Sheep Dog Trial Centre's 2019 circuit begins at Helensville this weekend February 1-2, then heads to the Bay of Islands on February 8-9 (at Mt Ahu Ahu, the same venue being used for the nationals).
Other legs are, Mangakahia from February 15-16, Omamari from February 22-24 in conjunction with the Northland championships, Rodney from March 9-10, Mt Manaia from March 15-16, Hobson from March 22-23, and Otamatea from March 30-31.
The second of the three Far North legs on this year's circuit is at Broadwood from April 5-6, followed by Molesworth from April 12-13, and Maungakaramea from April 27-28; with the final leg hosted by the Mangonui SDTC at Landcorp Rangiputa from May 3-4.
Profiles of local shepherds will feature over upcoming weeks.