Junior State Championships – Day Three Wrap up
By Ben Krikstolaitis
Many among us think of singles as the ultimate form of bowls. It is certainly the most individually challenging and, without a doubt, the format that encourages the purest of draw bowling. Today we watched the third round of the Junior State Championship singles as well as the semi-finals and the final. Using the word ‘watched’ is too soft a word. We were enthralled, flabbergasted, frustrated and elated at different points and we wouldn’t want it any other way.
The preliminary rounds were done this morning with four players remaining. Ryan Klem once again showed his skills in making it to another finals series for Zone 12. These Cabramatta bowlers are hard to beat and are definitely the powerhouses of the competition so far.
Zone 3’s little legend, Tim Thorning of Gunnedah knocked over a couple of tough matches to face Ryan in the Semi-final and a tough prospect. But a genuine strength of Tim is that he won’t give up. He’ll guts it out until his time comes and then he’ll pounce. He’ll claw tooth and nail for a victory.
On the other side of the draw, the big personality that is Tom Rich (Mudgee – Zone 4) forced his way into the Semi-final. He looked determined and focused as he progressed. His usual extroverted, happy and excited demeanor was unusually subdued such was his focus.
The final of the four qualifiers for the semi-final was Brad Farlow. An incredibly focused and fluent bowler who has proven his ability to play steady, even draw bowls in any circumstance.
Tom and Brad kicked off their game in the usual style, close heads and great draw bowling. The usually calm nature of Brad cracking a little with some real tension shown at the start. This is perhaps why Tom suddenly surged ahead on the scoreboard. All of a sudden Brad couldn’t find his weight and Tom’s laser-like focus kept him surrounding the jack. After 10 ends it was all over, Tom nailed a couple of full-count ends and stoically walked into the final.
It was the opposite story a couple of rinks away. Tim and Ryan were playing into heads you could have thrown a tea-towel over and had room to spare. Ryan Klem’s little size one bowls were always near the jack but Tim was able to match and often beat them. When the head looked bad for one of the lads they would drive into the head and scatter bowls everywhere.
The game lasted ages, both players going shot for shot. Often playing weight and then back to draw with their full powers on display. But Tim was the victor, reaching his 21 after thirty ends of hard-fought bowls. Tim them facing a bit of a disadvantage to Tom in a short turnaround. Tom would be rested, Tim tired but still riding high on a close victory. The stage was set for a phenomenal game.
Anyone who watched the final game in the singles series of the Junior Championships will be talking about it for a long, long time. As expected, Tim walked onto the green looking a little haggard from his long semi-final but determined. Tom swaggered to the mat with a grim look of incredible focus, he wanted this badly. His arm was adorned with a black band in tribute to clubmate Mathew Searle of Mudgee who passed earlier in the year.
The first end was as tight an end as we’ve seen in this championship. The next end followed the same way-and then again on the third. Both players swapping shot over and over again as the game flowed. Neither could gain an advantage. Neither could gain the momentum needed to make sure of the win. Every draw shot was smashed into oblivion. Every couple of shots up ended up in a dead end.
The draws were accurate and the heavy shots even more so much to the crowd’s delight. The noise increased around the green but it was obvious that neither player really noticed, so focused on each bowl and each target. This was bowls mastery on full display. Rarely has a better game been played in this arena, in this state or this country. Both players proving their credentials for further selection in representative teams.
Finally, at twenty all on the last end and one shot needed by either player to win, a pause. Tom Rich placed the mat down for a shortish end and they faced each other. Like weary boxers coming out for the final round of a long hard match. A game so focused and hard that they’d forgotten who was winning or losing and perhaps thinking that it didn’t matter anyway, they embraced near the mat and wished each other good luck. Sportsmen to the end.
The first four bowls down were even, Tom having two some distance behind Jack and Tim with two the same distance in front. Then Tom dropped in a shot that landed just to the right of the jack and was suddenly holding the game.
Tim had a run knowing he had played that shot perfectly all day and missed. Tom drew again, slightly longer but holding two and in a good position, still holding the game.
What happened next will is folklore. A tale that will be told every time a Junior Singles Championship is played. Time seemed to slow down. Tim stood on the mat in his pre-delivery pose. His exhale of breath quiet yet fully audible to everyone around the completely silent stadium*. Was he going to have another run? Was it a draw? Both shots were on, both an option to this young combatant.
Tim lined up the drive. He threw it as hard as he’d thrown any shot that day. Dust seemed to shoot up behind his bowl as it smoked down the green and clattered into Tom’s wing bowl, the sound echoing around the arena. It smashed into Tom’s next back bowl as well clearing any chance of Tom holding shot and winning the tournament in the most spectacular manner possible.
The crowd erupted. All anyone could say afterwards was ‘wow’. Tom and Tim had played one of the great games of bowls that has been seen. This was sport at its absolute finest. It was an honour to have witnessed it. It was a shame that there had to be a loser and indeed their really wasn’t. The crowd wishing that the game could have continued for some time.
Tim Thorning of Gunnedah, Zone 3, saluted the crowd. He claimed his medal and his trophy and started preparing for the next stage of the contest. Such is sport.