Gisborne teenager Joel Henare had to overcome mentor, idol and former three times World champion Joanne Kumeroa to retain his Waitaki McKenzie Merino Shears open woolhandling title.

He won by almost 20 points as a new Shearing Sports New Zealand season started in Omarama on Saturday.

The competition attracted 29 open woolhandlers in the first step towards the selection of two people for New Zealand's team to defend the world woolhandling title at the Royal Welsh show next July.

Kumeroa, from Wanganui but based in Australia, ceded important time and fleece points to Henare who is set to become the youngest person to qualify for consideration for Master Woolhandler status in the current season.

The top-ranked woolhandler in New Zealand last season, Henare cleaned-up the board almost nine seconds quicker than Kumeroa.

He also had a substantial edge in his fleecework on the table as he repeated a win he scored when the event came out of recess last year.

Third was Angelique Gage, of Christchurch.

The open shearing title was won by Invercargill gun Nathan Stratford, in the absence of reigning champion James Fagan, of Te Kuiti.

Stratford won with a clear margin of more than 14 points over runner-up Grant Smith, of Rakaia, with Pleasant Point's Eli Cummings claiming third.

The senior title was won by the Far North's Tipene Te Whata.

In Australia, Fagan was unable to match his winning start of a year ago as he and Hawke's Bay shearer Cam Ferguson were beaten narrowly by brothers Damian and Brendan Boyle in a historic trans Tasman challenge.

The event was only made possible with the recent unification of Australian competition by West Australia's affiliation to Sports Shear Australia.

While Fagan was first off the board in the 12 sheep contest, comprising six merino wethers and six crossbreds, Ferguson had one of his biggest moments by taking individual honours overall.

Both also tackled the Royal Perth Open, shorn only on merinos, and just missed on qualifying for the final.

All four shearers meet again in another trans Tasman challenge during New Zealand's only other merino competition, the national finewool championships, in Alexandra, next weekend.