Warren Fisher . . . recovering from a knee reconstruction. PHOTO/FILE

Defending champion Dean Hands was a late withdrawal from Bowls Wairarapa’s open men’s singles championship at the Masterton Bowling Club’s headquarters last weekend but he still had a big part to play in the result.

The absence of Hands with a back problem meant there was a vacancy to fill to alleviate a bye and into the breach stepped Titahi Bay’s Robbie Bennett who went on to win the title.

Robbie Bennett after his open singles win. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Not that Bennett’s victory could be labelled an upset.

In fact, it could be argued that the skip of the winning four at the national championships in 2010, the Wellington open singles champion in 2012-13 and the holder of eight Wellington centre titles was the best-credentialed player in what was a quality field.

This, though, was an event full of surprises.

For starters, two of the more favoured locals in Les O’Donovan (Featherston) and John Claydon (Masterton) didn’t even make it to post section.

Eliminated in the first round there were two other leading contenders, Ian Monaghan (Masterton) and Scott MacKenzie (Featherston).

Monaghan had a cracker of a game with Warren Fisher (Eketahuna) and twice staved off what seemed like almost certain defeat before Fisher eventually delivered the hammer blow to win by a couple of shots.

MacKenzie found himself in early strife against Brian Phillips (Greytown) only to recover the lost ground and lead 18-17.

Remarkably for a singles player of his calibre, he then dropped a four to give Phillips the win.

The other quarterfinals saw Bennett win rather comfortably against Mike Steele (Tawa) and Pater Walker (Masterton) stave off a determined comeback from Hayden Frew (Featherston) to win 21-16.

Walker was three down on the head when he drew the shot which gave him the victory.

The Bennett-Phillips semi was a thriller with Phillips holding the upper hand through the middle stages and Bennett finishing the stronger to eventually win 21-18.

Understandably though, Phillips was upbeat about his overall performance, saying it “wasn’t too bad for a 76-year-old”.

In the other semi-final, Fisher beat Walker 21-14 but the end margin didn’t tell the whole story as Walker led through the early part of the match and was still well in the hunt at 14-14.

His inability to add to that score was much more a case of Fisher playing some superb draw bowls than Walker bowing to the pressure of the occasion.

The final between Bennett and Fisher was an enthralling affair from go to whoa with both players consistently peppering the jack and the lead constantly changing from one to the other.

Bennett did sneak ahead by two shots at 12-10 but any thoughts that might be the important break soon disappeared as Fisher struck back to lead 14-12.

A three to Bennett then gave him a 15-14 advantage but again Fisher responded with a four and a one taking him out to a 19-15 lead.

The heat was now fairly and squarely on Bennett and after clawing his way back to a 19-18 deficit he picked up the three shots needed to give him the title.

While nobody could deny Bennet deserved his win, Fisher’s effort had special merit as he is still recovering from a knee reconstruction and nobody was more surprised than the man himself when he made it all the way to the final.

Meanwhile, Wairarapa senior men’s selector Gary Caffell has elected to stay with the same 14 players who provided an upset win over Kapiti earlier in the season for the Tararua Trophy quadrangular tournament at Levin on Sunday, January 28.

Wairarapa team:
Green – Scott MacKenzie (singles), Ian Monaghan and Paul Manning (pairs) and John Claydon, Les O’Donovan, Steve Willis and Matthew Day (fours).

Red – Hayden Frew (singles), Dean Hands and Josef Hanjos (pairs), Graeme Taggart, Lester Dee, Dave Richards and Mark Morete (fours).