The defending champion of the Billy Webb Challenge is after a share of a unique piece of history when he takes to the Whanganui River on Sunday.

Having Canterbury as a common background with Webb himself, the Avon Rowing Club's John Storey has been made aware if he wins back-to-back challenge races, he will join the legendary Mahe Drysdale as the only multiple time champion of the event.

There have been seven 5km challenge races since 2008 – "Mr Billy Webb" Drysdale has claimed four of them, while Storey has one win with the other line honours going to Hamish Bond (2014) and Germany's Tim Ole Naske (2016).

And with the future of the race uncertain after Sunday, Storey would like to make sure his name is included in the conversation alongside Drysdale any time the event is referenced in the future.


"That would be an honour," said the 31-year-old double sculls world champion from 2017.

While Storey "definitely" sees himself and Drysdale as the main scrap to sit at the head of the table, he is not discounting a fellow New Zealand team mate either.

"There's Matt Dunham there as well, and he's one of the fastest lightweights in the world, in my opinion."

Dunham won silver in the lightweight men's single sculls at the 2017 world championships in Sarasota, Florida, although all the Kiwis had a tougher time at this year's event in Plovdiv, with Dunham missing the podium in the lightweight double sculls while Storey and his Whanganui partner Chris Harris had to settle for bronze.

Although the New Zealanders then took a month's break after that competition in September, with Storey and his partner going on holiday to Greece, he says they have the strength to put in a good performance on the Whanganui River.

"We're back into it with the summer squad. Trying to build our base up.

"Not a lot of speed work. [But] it doesn't take too much, especially for these longer distances."

Joining the three New Zealand squad members in the Men's Open field will be Wellington RC's James Mather and Wairau's Tristan Gregory-Hunt, who is part of the Central Regional Performance Centre (RPC).

And Storey will be using all his experience - good and bad - when it comes to the crucial turn at the buoy, about 2.85km up river from the startline at the Union Boat Club, just past the Aramoho Rail Bridge.

In 2016, Storey had a collision with Tauranga's Jordan Parry at the turn, with cost him dearly as Naske regained the lead and the lost momentum meant the other chasers ran him down, ultimately finishing fifth.

Last year, Storey got the clear water and perfect angle, suddenly gaining an extra two to three boat lengths on Parry and the rest and he was uncatchable heading back to UBC.

The likes of Harris and Drysdale were pushed further out than they wanted, finishing third and fifth respectively.

"I always seem to get in trouble on that turn," said Storey.

"There's these rules now, you're not supposed to have people hanging on around the buoy."

In total, there is a final field of about 37 competitors entered in this year's feature race, ten more than last year, with some very good numbers from the Mitre 10 Mega Future Champions Trust Under 20 and Under 17 grades.

The women's open grade consists of New Zealand representatives Brooke Donoghue and Olivia Loe, along with Lisa Scheenaard of the Netherlands.

The action starts at 10am with the support race of the Whanganui Secondary Schools Waka Ama Challenge, as crews from City College, Cullinane College and Te Kura o Kokohuia take part in a 400m sprint course, with the two fastest teams in qualifying having a straight final with each other.

Then at 11am is the Red Community 8s, as four crews hit the water for a 500m sprint, with the teams made up of beginners, novices and experienced rowers.

Competing for a bar tab prize will be Wilkinson Smith Lawyers, Laser Plumbing, Whanganui District Council and Wanganui Collegiate Parents & Teachers.

The Billy Webb Challenge will follow at around 11.30am, with all of the start/finishline action captured on the big screen on Taupo Quay, along with footage from the halfway point up at the Aramoho Wanganui Rowing Club.

The entries are

Men's Masters Over 40: Martin Bridger, Colin Wright, Eric Verdonk.

Men's Masters Over 60: Trevor Rush, Peer Nielsen, Bob Evans.

Men's Open: Matthew Dunham, John Storey, James Mather, Tristan Gregory-Hunt, Mahe Drysdale.

Men's Under 17: Neo Tichbon, Cameron Daignault, Blake Hogan, Leo Hanna, Tim Haldane, Jack Cooper, Evan Williams, Jacob Davey.

Men's Under 20: Jack Morris, Jack Featherstone, Hugo Verdonk.

Women's Masters Over 40: Jacs Rush, Fleur Spriggs.

Women's Open: Brooke Donoghue, Olivia Loe, Lisa Scheenaard.

Women's Under 17: Niamh Monk, Ninabelle Harrison, Phoebe Collier, Charlotte McKinlay.

Women's Under 20: Ally Bennett, Jaimee Bridger, Sarah Taylor, Cathryn Pearce, Chloe Lennox, Jessica Hamlin.