A special anniversary prize went to a worthy victor on Saturday, as Balclutha welcomed the Otago Shears to town once more.

This year's event marked the 50th anniversary of the NZ Woolhandling Championships, won for 10 of the preceding 12 years — more than any other competitor in its history — by Joel Henare, of Gisborne.

Henare pulled out all the stops once more against a strong field at the weekend, and emerged victorious yet again to notch up a lofty 11th title.

He said winning the anniversary event was a "special thing".

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"It's the best anyone could ask for. Last year was meant to see me retire, but it wasn't to be.

Joel Henare, of Gisborne, watches his fleece carefully on his way to an 11th New Zealand open woolhandling title. Photo / Richard Davison
Joel Henare, of Gisborne, watches his fleece carefully on his way to an 11th New Zealand open woolhandling title. Photo / Richard Davison

"There have been a lot of great, familiar faces around this year and a lot of strong new contenders, which is also great to see. It looks like I might be sticking around a bit longer."

Quizzed on the secret of his success at the Otago event, he was at a loss.

"I can't say why I've been so lucky here in particular. Maybe I lift myself for the [national] finals, maybe it's the Otago wool — I don't know.

Leon Samuels, of Invercargill, was crowned Otago Shears champion 2020. Photo / Richard Davison
Leon Samuels, of Invercargill, was crowned Otago Shears champion 2020. Photo / Richard Davison

"At the end of the day you only get out what you give, and I've given it everything today."

Second in the open woolhandling championship was Pagan Karauria, of Alexandra; Foonie Waihape, of Gisborne, was third.

The open shearing event was won by Leon Samuels, of Invercargill, followed closely by fellow Southlanders Nathan Stratford (Invercargill) and last year's champion Brett Roberts (Mataura).

Shears chairman Bruce Walker said a compressed event schedule this year had proven successful.

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Pagan Karauria, of Alexandra, runs over her second shear on her way to second place in the NZ open woolhandling champs in Balclutha on Saturday. Photo / Richard Davison
Pagan Karauria, of Alexandra, runs over her second shear on her way to second place in the NZ open woolhandling champs in Balclutha on Saturday. Photo / Richard Davison

"We've moved from one and a-half days to a single day's competition this year, so although that's been a lot of organisation for everybody, it's also made for improved crowds and a livelier atmosphere."

The move had been precipitated by falling entry numbers, which he described as a "sign of the times".

"The quality of the contenders continues to be right up there, but we'd always like to see more entries."

About 50 former woolhandling competitors and officials helped celebrate the event's 50th anniversary at a "lively" dinner in Balclutha on Friday night, Mr Walker said.

"Let's just say there were a few good yarns being spun."