The Australian team for a transtasman shearing test at the Golden Shears on Saturday night looks a bit different without Shannon Warnest – missing from the team for the first time since 2004.
But the absence of the two-time World champion and South Australian, who represented Australia in 30 consecutive transtasman tests up to the last in Perth last September, the 21st Australian win in the 15 years in which Warnest had been the top individual at least 15 times, shouldn't mean they should be overlooked as perhaps the strongest-ever New Zealand team tries to regain some supremacy for the Silver Fern.
That's the view of fellow test match stayer Jason Wingfield, of Cobram, Vic, and who has 19 of the tests under his belt, including 11 wins.
In Masterton since Tuesday preparing for the clash, on sheep made available by Golden Shears president and former New Zealand team manager Sam Saunders, Wingield says new team member and first-time series shearer Callum O'Brien, from Collie, West Australia, is up to the class needed to help Australia stay on top in the contest pitting the three shearers from each country in a battle over Kiwi favourites the strongwooled crossbred and lambs, and Australian enemy the finewooled merino.
As if taking the lead from Warnest, who said after the win 12 months ago it was time for the younger ones to step up and he wouldn't be yielding if they weren't good enough to put him out of the team, the 31-year-old O'Brien qualified by beating Warnest in the Australian championships final in Perth in September.
Wingfield said after watching O'Brien in today's Golden Shears Open championships heats: "Callum's a good replacement, and he's just shorn well. It's his first Goldies, and that's always a bit nerve-wracking."
Wingfield recalled his own first appearance at the Golden Shears came after several appearances at the New Zealand championships in Te Kuiti and said: "You'd think that would prepare you for the Golden Shears, but it doesn't. The first time was nerve-wracking for me. Geez, it's one of those experiences I'll never forget."
Wingfield, O'Brien and reigning and four-times Australian champion Daniel McIntyre, of Glenn Innes, NSW, face a Saturday night match against the New Zealand team of reigning World champion, Rowland Smith, of Pakipaki, 2014 World champion Rowland Smith, of Maraekakaho, and Southland shearer Nathan Stratford, who won a World teams title with Kirkpatrick two years ago.
The transtasman tests started in 1974, Warnest's ascendancy contributing significantly to trended reversal which has Australia with 34 wins to the 30 won by New Zealand.