Among the group of local shepherds planning to exploit home advantage at the national sheep dog trial championships later this year is veteran competitor Allen Nisbet.
The Mangakahia SDT (Sheep Dog Trial) Club member will mark a half century of trialling this year when the provincial domestic circuit gets under way next month.
There the focus will be on qualifying a number of his dogs for the 2019 Tux North Island and New Zealand Championships which are being held on Mt Te Ahu Ahu, just north of Ohaeawai in May.
A holder of several North Island and South Island titles, a national title has eluded Nisbet although he has finished runner-up on various occasions in previous years.
And at 81, he still didn't expect to be one of the elder statesmen competing at the nationals but noting there was a chap from the South Island who had just turned 96 who was likely to make the cut.
Asked if the sport was still relevant today, Nisbet believed the differences from when he first began trialling were only slight.
"Interest is about the same. It was different, we worked different sheep. They came off big stations, we had big wethers [fixed sheep]. We are working ewes and lambs now [on the domestic Northland circuit]," he said, noting hoggets will be used at this year's nationals because of the time of year.
Nisbet also accepted that although the nationals are being held on home turf, the crew representing Northland clubs there will still find themselves up against the odds, thanks to the number of sheep farms across the province having steadily declined in recent decades.
"We might have to travel more to places to qualify with so little sheep in the north. I have got about nine sheep [at home], I train all my dogs on them ... I also get a little bit of outside block work from time to time."
Nisbet recalled growing up in the days of A Dog's Show — and, to a later and lesser extent, Tux Wonder Dogs — when it was prime time viewing at 6pm on Sundays, back in the days of three channels, making household names of New Zealand's best sheepdogs and their handlers.
While the coming nationals have already attracted strong sponsorship from local businesses, Nisbet and his Northland stablemates would be rapt to see people from the wider Far North public there to witness some of the best in the business ply their trade.
"We've just got to make it happen. I would love the public come along, it would be great. We have to got to get it out there, get people to come to it."
The domestic Northland circuit begins at Helensville on February 1-2, then heads to the Bay of Islands on February 8-9 (Waitangi Day weekend).
Other legs are at Mangakahia from February 15-16, Omamari from February 22-24 (which is being held in conjunction with the annual Northland championships), Rodney from March 9-10, Mt Manaia from March 15-16, Hobson from March 22-23, and Otamatea from March 30-31.
The second of two Far North legs in this year's circuit will be held at Broadwood from April 5-6, followed by Molesworth from April 12-13, and Maungakaramea from April 27-28; followed by the 12th and final leg at Mangonui, at Landcorp Rangiputa, from May 3-4.
Shepherds competing in the series can earn five points for a win and one point for fifth place, with any dog needing six points to qualify for the nationals. For example, a heading dog taking a first place in the short head and yard, and a fifth in the long head at any one of the 12 Northland legs qualifies.