One of the most gifted — and at times controversial — figures in New Zealand Bowls history is on the cusp of a remarkable comeback.
Gary Lawson has been named in an overhauled national high performance squad, with an eye to next year's World Bowls Championships on the Gold Coast.
Lawson last played for New Zealand in 2009, when the Blackjacks four he skipped - including Shannon McIlroy, Shayne Sincock and Jamie Hill - was accused of throwing an end at the Asia Pacific Championships in Malaysia.
The four were found guilty of throwing the 17th end in a match against Thailand at the Asia Pacific championships in Kuala Lumpur.
Lawson was banned for six months after an investigation and then essentially shut out of the international arena, while remaining a force domestically, amassing a record 13 national titles.
It was always an unfortunate situation, and the punishment at the time (and Lawson's international exile) seemed way out of proportion to any perceived crime
Changes at the top of Bowls NZ have (with new CEO Mark Cameron coming on board in April 2017), a new attitude from Lawson and some poor results at last year's Commonwealth Games have all contributed to Lawson's comeback.
"He brings a wealth of experience and a mental toughness on the greens that perhaps hasn't quite been there over the last couple of years," said Bowls NZ head coach Peter Belliss.
For his part, Lawson was delighted, albeit a little stunned.
"You dream about it but no it didn't look like it was going to happen," Lawson admitted to D'Arcy Waldegrave on Radio Sport. "To get the opportunity is awesome. I never gave up and kept trying to perform well."
Lawson feels he has matured, on and off the green since he last represented New Zealand and has plenty of belief in his game.
"There is not a shot that I am not 100 per cent confident that I can play," said Lawson.
"But now I need to go up a level, need to prepare myself better. Now everyone has to start fighting for the positions."
Lawson has also put the events of 2009 — when many in the national bowls fraternity had sympathy for the Christchurch-born bowler— well behind him.
"That's history," said Lawson. "You are going to get that. They have to try and sell some papers and get some headlines. What happened is in the past. We have some great memories as well, 13 NZ titles, couple of world championships. We can't change history. We can only create it.
"Today is the start of a whole new life. As far I am concerned we are starting from scratch and I still believe I have a few good years left in me and there is no reason what New Zealand can't do it again."
Lawson is one of 10 men in the high performance squad, with reigning world champions Shannon McIlroy and Ali Forsyth the only survivors from the Gold Coast.
Paul Girdler has announced his international retirement, Mike Nagy and Blake Signal has missed out on selection.
Like Lawson, Jamie Hill has been recalled after a decade-long absence, while Andrew Kelly, Mike Kernaghan and Chris Le Lievre are also back in the national set-up.
Seamus Curtin, Taylor Horn and Jordan King have been named for the first time.
The women's high performance squad is headlined by Commonwealth Games gold medallist Jo Edwards and also features a mix of new and familiar faces.
Lisa Prideaux has been named for the first time, along with Sarah Scott.
Prideaux won the national women's pairs title with long-time Blackjack Val Smith last week, while Scott made the semi-finals of the women's singles.
Singles runner-up Selina Goddard has been recalled, as has Kirsten Edwards and Wendy Jensen, while singles champion Debbie White has been named in the talent development squad.
Peter Belliss and fellow selectors Phil Skoglund (convener) and Marlene Castle will now turn their attention to picking the Blackjacks squad for the Asia Pacific Championships in June.
It doubles as a qualifying event for next year's World Championships and will also be staged on the Gold Coast.
Bowls NZ High performance squad:
Women – Tayla Bruce (Burnside), Jo Edwards (United & Pine Rivers), Kirsten Edwards (Stoke), Selina Goddard (Carlton Cornwall), Katelyn Inch (Oxford & Broadbeach), Wendy Jensen (Orewa), Lisa Prideaux (Merrylands), Sarah Scott (Te Rangi) and Val Smith (United & Merrylands)
Men – Seamus Curtin (Stokes Valley), Ali Forsyth (Nelson & Clayton), Jamie Hill (Eastbourne & Onehunga), Taylor Horn (Mangere), Andrew Kelly (Canterbury), Mike Kernaghan (North East Valley), Jordan King (Mangere), Gary Lawson (Eastbourne), Chris Le Lievre (Musgrave Hill) and Shannon McIlroy (Stoke)