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Injury rules out favourite


Injury has forced eight-time Golden Shears open shearing champion Rowland Smith out of this week’s championship.

The near two-metres-tall Hawke’s Bay shearer announced the decision on Wednesday, just hours after he had received the latest news on an injury he has been trying to work through.

It was worse than expected, and he realised immediately it was best not to risk further damage with farming, rural contracting and family interests at play, and the desire to bounce back next season to bid for a place in the New Zealand team in the 2026 World Championships in Masterton.

Smith, 37, said he had been working towards defending the title, so it was a disappointment to withdraw at almost the last minute.

The announcement sent the TAB into a spin, being the only betting agency in the world taking wagers on shearing competition in the only country where shearing competition is recognised by a government or a government agency as a sport.

Smith, who had competed just three times this season, for a win at Dannevirke on February 2 and third and second placings at Gore and Pukekohe on February 17 and 18, respectively, had been the TAB favourite, opening at $1.70 on Monday, with second favourite, Northland shearer Toa Henderson at $2.60, after a string of dominant recent wins.

As punter interest swung towards Henderson he came into $2.25, and Smith drifted to $1.80, but with Smith scratching, Henderson was installed as a warm favourite at $1.45. The price on Southland gun and 2023 New Zealand Shears Open winner Leon Samuels was chopped into $2.90.

Smith was runner-up first-time into the Golden Shears final in 2011 and third 12 months later, but hasn’t since been beaten in the six-man showdown. He didn’t compete in 2015 when it was won by New Zealand-based Scotland international Gavin Mutch, who is now the third favourite to win the final tomorrow night.

Masterton shearers David Gordon and Paerata Abraham and Eketāhuna’s Hemi Braddick are on the fifth line of betting, offering $41 to become the first Wairarapa shearer to lift the open trophy in its 63-year history.

In a further blow, four-time champion and fan favourite John Kirkpatrick is also likely to withdraw, having undergone operations over the summer, and having not shorn in any recent competitions.

The start of the Open Championship heats this afternoon signals the business end of the Golden Shears, which have attracted the biggest entry in many years with about 500 shearers and woolhandlers competing, more than 25 per cent up on last year.

The dramatic increase in entries, though, has forced a rare 24-hour delay for one of the core events.

The Senior woolhandling, with about 30 competitors at Masterton’s War Memorial Stadium, had been scheduled for early yesterday afternoon.

But chief referee Ronny King said the large entry had put pressure on the programme from the moment it started at 7.45 am, and the Senior woolhandling had been rescheduled for today, starting at 11.50 am.

The size of the increase in numbers had not been foreseen when the programme was confirmed, largely the same as last year, and it wasn’t until significant increases were seen at provincial shows from late January and into February that it became apparent that there would be more entries than had been anticipated.

For over a decade, the programme has had room for late entries across the nine Golden Shears title shearing and woolhandling grades. Still, late entries this year queued for competing only if there were late withdrawals.

New Golden Shears International Shearing Championships Society president Trish Stevens said: “We’re absolutely overwhelmed. We are particularly pleased with the numbers of Novice and Junior entries.”

The Novice shearing with 66 entries, Junior shearing [72], and Novice woolhandling [24] all reached capacity.

Factors in the increase include greater numbers of competitors from overseas working in New Zealand this summer, including a group from Mongolia and another group partnering with an exchange group of young shearers. There are also competitors from Scotland, England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Wales, France and Germany.

– Doug Laing
Shearing Sports NZ

Chris Cogdale
Chris Cogdale
Chris “Coggie” Cogdale has extensive knowledge of sport in Wairarapa having covered it for more than 30 years, including radio for 28 years. He has been the sports guru at the Wairarapa Times-Age since 2019.

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