One of the most notable albeit less-than-ideal aspects from this year's provincial sheep dog trial circuit was the poor numbers of huntaways in Far North events, according to Mangonui Sheep Dog Trial Club spokesman Merv Cameron.
Heading entries at most trials had been "pretty consistent" at around 60-70, he said in his season review, but while the southern clubs had drawn competitors from the Waikato, the two Far North clubs had not been so well supported. Only 16 huntaways competed at Broadwood.
"A pity as these (local) clubs need to survive and require support. Their location makes for long travel for triallists to come north, but it's the same going the other way for us."
Cameron had been pleased to see ever-willing helper Pete Campbell and Cash (Okaihau) take out the long head title at the first event at Helensville in January. The pair went on to make the leaderboard at the North Island champs but eventually dropped off, Merv congratulating his good friend for making it that far.
The short head and yard title at Helensville was claimed by John Nelley with Joy.
"John has had a couple of terrible years health-wise, so this must have been a tonic to his system, while a win in the hunts for Owen Finlayson with Tony would have also lifted his spirits," he said.
Two visitors who had travelled a long way took out both heading events at the second leg in the Bay of Islands; Leo Jecentho with Scott and Dave Andrews with Dick had been rewarded for their effort while the former Far North expat continued this form at the Waikato centre trials with first, second and third placings.
The Bay hunting also featured strong performances by Nev Child's new dog Simon and Scott McRae's Toby. The latter dog later had to recover rom a twisted gut and went on to place at the nationals.
A very wet Mangakahia hosted the third trial of the season, the Child brothers deservedly winning all four events, only to repeat the feat at Omamari and set an unmatchable benchmark as the season progressed.
Long shots Shaun Haynes and Milly won the long head at Mt Manaia, staged in conjunction the centre champs, Milly going on to win again at Rodney while Neville Child's Rod — who later made a great attempt to win a North Island title only to come second — took out the short head with visitor Stuart Child winning one hunt and Craig Lugtigheid the other.
Rodney saw Neville's Harry win the long head and continue his consistent season, but Murray Child's Dice again showed she was in a class of her own at Otamatea, scoring a double, while McRae's Toby claimed one hunt and Murray's Frank the other.
At Hobson, Ken Whittaker's Jess won the long head and Tony Comins' Jill the yarding, with Comins' Tote also getting a hunt title.
Broadwood had good sheep but difficult courses, which truly tested the dogs' abilities. Allan Nesbit's generally consistent Pat took out the long head, and Cameron's Clyde the yarding. Grant West's Swagger and Roger Davis were the best of the huntaways.
"Roger, ex-Taupo Bay and Blenheim but now at Tangiwahine Valley, would have been chuffed to get this win," Merv said.
Maungakaramea had wins for Child's Boy, McRae's Skeata, Barney Robinson's Rod and visitor Craig Pearson. At Molesworth it was Dice, Harry, Frank and Swagger who emerged victorious.
The last trial, Rangiputa, saw Haynes' young bitch Sue put in a lovely effort to just hold off Cameron's Clyde, while Jecentho's Smoke made it two years in a row on the yarding course, and Murray's Frank won both hunts. None of it came easy though.
"Setting up, carting gear, working sheep and clearing up, I did well over 800km and drove for 16 hours. Colin Jay would be just a bit less," he said.
"Working 550 sheep in lots of 12 to 15 for four consecutive days stretched us, and we were most grateful for any assistance from others, and to Landcorp for allowing us to use their property, sheep and facilities."