It was a real show of faith as shearers turned out in some of the biggest numbers for years for the Taranaki Shears at the Stratford A and P Show on Saturday.
With rain forecast it was in the lap of the gods, but by the end of the day 68 shearers had competed across the five grades, about 50 per cent up on numbers usually expected for the championships.
Uniquely, the open class was not the biggest, its 14 entries being surpassed by the 17 in the intermediate class, and equalled by the 14 juniors and 14 in the novice grade.
Organising convenor Shane Rawlinson said it had been a long time since entries would have exceeded 60, and in recent years the total had normally been about 45.
While some rain closed-in during the day, it was better than what had been forecasted, he said.
Among those who supported the competition, (which drew together the show's annual event and the Taranaki Shears previously held in the town's War Memorial Hall each March), was New Zealand Shearing Contractors Association president, Mark Barrowcliffe.
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He took 10 younger shearers from his base in Piopio but the overall numbers didn't allow much time to watch their progress during the day.
Straddled by the return journey of over 330km was a tougher-than-usual day judging the events with the extra numbers.
"It was hard-out all day. I was buggered, no rests at all. Not used to that, but it was very cool to see," Barrowcliffe said.
The numbers from King Country came on the back of a learner-shearer course a fortnight ago at Moketenui Station near Bennydale, managed by farmer Peter Bird, and itself a drawcard with the woolshed having been the scene of several notable world shearing records, involving some of the world's greatest shearers.
There were 18 on the course, Barrowcliffe said, and six of those at Stratford were appearing in a shearing competition for the first time.
The three-stand board, which Rawlinson hopes will next season be either expanded by one stand or replaced by a new facility, was just the place to be for Whangamomona farmer and Scotland international Gavin Mutch as he started the build-up to a bid for a second Golden Shears open title in Masterton in March, and ultimately a second world individual title in France in July.
In Saturday's final, at his first competition of the New Zealand season, he was first to finish, by 11 seconds and shearing the 18 sheep in 15min 52sec.
Ultimately he regained the title with victory by one point over runner-up and Te Kuiti shearer Mark Grainger, also in his first competition of the new season and who was going for a third win in a row in the event since Mutch's only previous win in the Stratford show final in 2015.
Third was Pongaroa farmer David Buick, already winner of three finals this season.
It was Mutch's 13th top-three placing at the showgrounds, while he had won win in the Taranaki Shears at the memorial hall, in 2014.
Manawatu shearer Connor Puha, of Kimbolton, won the senior final, a fortnight after also winning at the Central Hawke's Bay Show and having previously won a junior final at Stratford, in 2015.
On Saturday Puha won by more than 4pts from runner-up and Taranaki shearer Trevor Holland, who despite only rarely featuring in competition does have a New Zealand crossbred lambs title to his name.
Jayden Paul, of Taumarunui, had his second intermediate win, beating runner-up Daniel Biggs, of Mangamahu, by 5.8pts in their final, while 17-year-old Topia Barrowcliffe, of Pio Pio, won the junior final, his first win in 12 top-six placings over the last three years as a junior or novice.
Among those who missed-out on a place in the open final was Te Kuiti shearer Jack Fagan, who later won a Speedshear in Stratford.
RESULTS of the Taranaki Shears at the Stratford A and P Show on Saturday, November, 24, 2018:
Open final (18 sheep): Gavin Mutch (Scotland/Whangamomona) 15min 52sec, 58.25pts, 1; Mark Grainger (Te Kuiti) 16min 3sec, 59.25pts, 2; David Buick (Pongaroa) 16min 37sec, 60.29pts, 3.
Senior final: Connor Puha (Kimbolton) 9min 27sec, 36.59pts, 1; Trevor Holland (New Plymouth) 9min 13sec, 40.65pts, 2; David Gordon (Masterton) 10min 31sec, 41.8pts, 3.
Intermediate final: Jayden Paul (Taumarunui) 7min 35sec, 33.58pts, 1; Daniel Biggs (Mangamahu) 8min 59sec, 39.38pts, 2; Courtney (CJ) Flower (Dargaville) 8min 13sec, 40.14pts, 3.
Junior final: Topia Barrowcliff (Piopio) 8min 21sec, 34.4pts, 1; Matthew Smith (Otorohanga) 8min 58sec, 37.15pts, 2; Andrew Rea (Straid, Northern Ireland) 8min 31sec, 42.05pts, 3.
Novice (1 sheep): Renee Biggs (Mangamahu) 4min 28sec, 41.4pts, 1; Reghan Ngarotata (Piopio) 4min 30sec, 44.5pts, 2; Summer Pritchard (Pongaroa) 4min 40sec, 46pts, 3.