Open woolhandling final hopes Chelsea Collier(left) and Joel Henare during the Otago Shears in Balclutha in February. Photo / Supplied
More than 200 shearers and wool-handlers from across the country are preparing to go head to head at the 2021 New Zealand Shears championships kicking off in Te Kūiti tomorrow.
The programme includes nine national championship titles, from open to novice grades in both shearing and wool-handling, as well as the North Island Shearer of the Year, New Zealand Shears Circuit finals for Open shearers and a Women’s championship.
Last year, the Covid-19 Level 4 lockdown caused the New Zealand Shears championships to be cancelled for the first time since it was created as the King Country Shears in 1985.
While a Level 2 alert cancelled this year’s Golden Shears in Masterton a month ago, New Zealand Shears president Claire Grainger says her committee is determined these championships will go ahead.
“We did talk about how we could run an event without spectators,” Grainger says. “But we haven’t had to put those sorts of plans in place. We’re here now, and we’re ready to go.”
She says last year’s cancellation came just in time for the organisation to refund competitor entries, return financial support where necessary and avoid significant financial loss.
“If it had gone another week (last year) before we had to cancel we would have been up the creek.
“A second cancellation would have been devastating for Te Kūiti and the region and for shearing sports and the shearing industry,” she says.
“I’m not sure how we would have come back. The world’s not the same any more, and the reality is we can’t always do what we want and plan to do any more.”
The New Zealand Shears has picked up much of the hype that was surrounding the Golden Shears, with the emergence of competitors as major threats to defending champion and seven-times winner Rowland Smith, of Maraekakaho, near Hastings.
Wairarapa shearer David Buick signs off in winning at Waipukurau in November, 2020. Photo / SSNZ
Leading the competitors is Wairarapa shearer David Buick, who has had 10 wins in 14 finals this season. Nathan Stratford, Leon Samuels, and Brett Roberts spearhead hopes for the South Island. And former World and Golden Shears Open champion and Southern Hawke’s Bay-based Gavin Mutch is a fierce contender.
Northland shearer Toa Henderson, of Kaiwaka, is another emerging shearing champion, with three wins this season.
Henderson has shorn in finals from Kaikohe and Gore and says no Covid lockdowns can diminish the prestige of shearing competitions in Aotearoa.
“We may have had a number of cancellations,” he says, “but it’s still 44 events that no other country has been able to have.”
The Open wool-handling title looks to be a showdown between current and past New Zealand champions Joel Henare, of Gisborne, Sheree Alabaster, of Taihape, and No 1 ranked wool-handler Keryn Herbert, of Te Kūiti. All will be competing to win the title for the first time.
But Hamilton-based Chelsea Collier and Masterton’s Samantha Gordon could upset the pack after both gained recent wins in regional divisions.
Shearing Sports New Zealand chairman Sir David Fagan, says “everyone” is looking forward to the three days, after a season in which entries have often shown shearers and woolhandlers “just want to get out and compete.”