Three former winners of the national all-breeds shearing championship have got their new season underway successfully, with top 10 placings in the first round in Alexandra on Saturday.
Now known as the PGG Wrightson Vetmed National Shearing Circuit, the competition comprises five preliminary events, each on different types of wool.
The top 12 overall, based on points for heats placings at each venue, will qualify for the finals at the 2022 Golden Shears.
It is the series' 50th season, incorporating the McSkimming Memorial Triple Crown - presented for the first time in a three-round series in 1972-1973, in memory of Central Otago merino shearing legend Fred McSkimming.
Also in the 20th season linked to lead sponsor PGG Wrightson, the Circuit now comprises founding show the New Zealand Merino Shears (the fine wool leg in Alexandra), the crossbred longwool of the Waimate Shears this week, the Corriedales of the Canterbury Shears next month and, in February, lambs at the Rangitikei Shearing Sports in Marton and second-shear at the Pahiatua Shears.
Preceded by semi-finals, the six-man showdown for the title will be a straight shear over the five wool types on the last day of the March 3-5 Golden Shears in Masterton.
The final has been held here every year except last season, when the 11th-hour pandemic alert cancellation of the Pahiatua Shears and the Golden Shears led to the final being held at the New Zealand Shears in Te Kuiti.
Setting the pace this season, as per usual, is 2014 winner Nathan Stratford who claimed the maximum 12points in the opening round, placing third in the Merino Shears Open heats behind Central Otago non-series shearers Stacey Te Huia and Jocky O'Neill.
From there, Stratford went on to win the Merino final for the fifth time.
Masterton shearer and 2019 Circuit winner Paerata Abraham claimed sixth-place points, and Invercargill shearer Leon Samuels, who won the 2021 final in Te Kuiti, claimed ninth-place points.
Scottish shearer, 2012 World Champion and 2015 Golden Shears winner Gavin Mutch, based in New Zealand for two decades, had to withdraw from both the Merino Shears and the Circuit because of a shoulder injury.
With the Merino Shears a compulsory event, Phil Wedd, of Silverdale, was granted an exemption from competing in Alexandra because of the Covid-19 Delta lockdown in Auckland which prevented him from travelling south, and was awarded the standard starter's point.
Leading Points in the 2021-2022 PGG Wrightson Vetmed National Shearing Circuit after the first round at the New Zealand Merino Shears in Alexandra on Saturday:
Nathan Stratford (Invercargill) 12, Troy Pyper (Cheviot) 11, Ethan Pankhurst (Masterton) 10, Alex Smith (Rakaia) 9, Brett Roberts (Mataura) 8, Paerata Abraham (Masterton) 7, David Gordon (Masterton) 6, Leon Samuels (Invercargill) 5, Jimmy Samuels (Marton) 4, Aaron Haynes (Feilding) 3, Lionel Taumata (Gore) 2.
The following each have 1 point: Casey Bailey (Riverton), Hemi Braddick (Eketahuna), Hugh De Lacy (Rangiora), Jack Fagan (Te Kuiti), Beau Guelfi (Gisborne), Duncan Higgins (Blenheim), Paul Hodges (Geraldine), Willy McSkimming (Oamaru), Matene Mason (Masterton), Ringakaha Paewai (Gore), James Ruki (Te Kuiti) and Phil Wedd (Silverdale).