The pre-Christmas phase of the 2018-2019 shearing sports season comes to a close with competitions at the Stratford and Nelson A and P shows on Saturday.
Of particular interest will be the Taranaki Shears, a shearing-only competition to be held at the Stratford A and P Show, and effectively a merger of the show competition and former late-season Taranaki Shears shearing and woolhandling championships last held in March 2017.
It's the start of a new era with organisers hoping that while it will be held on the showground's board of just three stands, it will be able to quickly achieve the status the shears had as an A-grade shearing and woolhandling competition, using a six-stand board erected each year in the town's War Memorial Hall.
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Organising convener Shane Rawlinson, (still keeping in his hand as a competitor with some success, evidenced by his win last February in the Whanga Shears in the "Republic" of Whangamomona), says that the hope is to add a fourth stand to the facility next year, or get into a new facility he hopes will be built at the showgrounds.
In the meantime he's hoping the show will keep up with a tradition of attracting at least 50 shearers across the five classes, from the novice grade, which opens the day starting at 9.30am, to the open grade, in which the heats start at 1pm.
Despite the relative geographical remoteness of the show from other shearing competitions, (with shearing at such shows as Egmont and Waverley shows now a distant part of history), Stratford, which had in recent years been the only town holding two competitions on the Shearing Sports New Zealand calendar, has continually attracted some of the best.
Since 1991, the A and P show final has been won by world champions in all but three years, with a similar outcome at the Taranaki Shears, of which a special feature was the 2012 open final, featuring five who had won, (or would win) world titles, plus one world record holder, while all six had been, (or would become), Golden Shears open champions.
All had either been Golden Shears open champions or were set to become one, as in the case of Scottish Whangamomona farmer and then new world champion Gavin Mutch who went on to win the Golden Shears open final in 2015.
Of the three Stratford open titles not won by world champions in the last 27 years, two have been won in the last two years by Te Kuiti shearer Mark Grainger.
Rawlinson says 450 sheep are being prepared for the championships, where he hopes shearers in the lower classes will take the opportunity not only to compete, but also learn from the top competitors for whom the ultimate goal this season is a Golden Shears or New Zealand open title, and a place at the world championships in France next July.
The Nelson A and P Shears, starting at 10am, makes a belated start to the competition season in the top of the south and West Coast region after the cancellation of the Marlborough show's shears a fortnight ago, and will be looking for outside shearers to boost the numbers.
Organising convener David Baigent has just over 300 sheep ready and expects the usual entry of just over 20 shearers across the classes from junior to open.
Two outsiders who had this week confirmed their presence were Mataura shearer Brett Roberts, direct from his open win at the West Otago show at Tapanui, and Canterbury-based Chile world championships representative Luis Pincol, eager to add to his tally of 14 senior wins.
A feature will be the final of last year's Top of the South junior competition, at the third attempt.
Featuring John Wyllie, of Golden Bay, Kimberley MacLean, of Motueka, and Campbell Barker, of Tapawera, it was unable to be held at last season's Flaxbourne show, because a Takaka Hills road closure meant competitors could not get to the event. The second attempt was scuttled by the Marlborough Shears cancellation.
The other competitions in the region are at the Golden Bay show on January 19, the Tapawera Sports on January 26, the Inangahua show in Reefton on February 2, the Murchison show on February 16, and the Flaxbourne show on March 24.