Lawn Bowls

JT and the wild journey through the Manning Mixed Pairs

Earlier this month came the time for one of the most intense sporting events in Western Australia, the Mixed Pairs Club Championship at Manning, and I say intense because the fields for it are sensational, given the club is one of the strongest Men’s clubs in WA (Being the reigning Thursday & Saturday Premier League champions), and the Manning women have enjoyed a dynastic run in women’s pennants this century, winning 13 out of 15 Tuesday Premier League titles.

So thanks to a series of events that can be traced back to me starting to play Jack Attack in November 2017, I was asked by Helen Heal way back in May of this year (Before herself and AJ made their annual pilgrimage to Broome until bowls season recommenced) if I’d be interested in playing with her in the club Mixed Pairs a good 6 months down the track, and I was never going to turn down a chance to play with someone of Helen’s pedigree, which includes titles in several State events (in addition to making a State Singles Final), Masters events, medals at the Australian Championships, represented WA, and played in several dozen Premier League title-winning teams.

Still, I would argue we weren’t even the most unlikely combination in the field, as my good mate Richard ‘Half’ Price found himself paired with young Kaitlyn Tyrrell, who came to Manning prior to this season from Osborne Park’s Premier League team, and plays as a third for WA.

They met for the first time 5 minutes before they were due to play.

Fast forward to December 4, the format was 3 bowls, 2 sets of 7 ends with a tiebreak if the sets are split, and in the first game we played Gayle Pow and Andy Lill, and fun fact about Andy is that his nickname is Jocks, which came about because due to his Pommy accent, one of our country bowlers (Billy Fraser) thought his name was ‘Undie’, so the name Undie naturally evolved into ‘Jocks’.

We’re a funny country.

When it came to the game, to say we couldn’t land anything in the 1st Set was an understatement, as we won the first end of the day, then dropped the next 6 ends and lost the set 11-1 after failing to adjust to the slow Green, then in the 2nd Set we were slow getting away once again as Andy and Gayle landed multiple shots, but about halfway through the set we were starting to play to an acceptable level and got it back to 3-3 with 2 ends to play thanks to setting long ends, and on that 6th end we were holding 5 with a bowl to play, and if Andy couldn’t land his last bowl we were a lock to go into a tiebreak, with momentum akin to a boulder down a hill…

He got a wick, smashed the jack out the back, and turned 5 down into 2 up, and with our only avenue to a comeback gone, we lost in straight sets down -14 on variance, the kind of loss that can end your day before it had even begun.

After that body blow, in the second game we played Maurice and Kerry, and despite continuing to improve we did go on to lose the first set 5-4 after a couple of bowls went against us, but after persevering we finally broke though in the 2nd Set and stormed to an 8-2 win to force a tiebreak, we won the toss for the mat and elected to bowl first, I got a bowl close and covered off the drive, Helen hit me up to give us 2 shots, and that was the game.

Following Game 2 came the lunch break, and after 2 games the standings of Section 3 stood like this, given you get 1 point for a set win and 3 points for an overall win:

1st: Bob The Builder/Sharon Lyster (8 points, +9 shots)

2nd: Jocks/Gayle (6 points, +10 shots)

3rd: Helen/JT (4 points, -9 shots)

4th: Kerry ‘Krush’ Rush/Maurice Barnes (2 points, -10 shots)

That meant the simple equation is that we had to go up to the St Pius Church to pray for a Sunday miracle, then we had to win our last game against Bob and Sharon in straight sets, and hope Maurice and Kerry could defeat Gayle and Andy…

Solving the first part of the equation, myself and Helen rubbed the rosary beads and put together the kind of performance we’d been waiting 6 months for, utterly dominating Bob and Sharon right from the jump to win 9-3 11-4, set up by a 5 on the 2nd End of the game and a 4 on the 2nd End of the 2nd Set, and it just seemed like every time either myself or Helen needed to make a shot we nailed it.

Case in point, Helen getting a toucher amidst 3 opposing bowls on the last end

So while Helen went off to the bar, Andy/Gayle vs Kerry/Maurice went to a tiebreak, and in a tense finish, Kerry drew shot with her second bowl a foot behind the jack, leaving it down to one bowl from Andy to decide the section, and in a moment preserved by time, he played wide hand, got a wick on the right that he’d been playing for, the bowl then rolled between the shot and the jack and fell back on its side, missing shot by an inch, meaning Kerry didn’t have to play her last bowl.

So by divine miracle, myself and Helen had come from 3rd going into the last game to win the Section and go straight through to the Semi on the 18th, due to play the winner of the alignment game between Karina/Matty and Floppy/Vicky earlier that morning.

Looking at the other groups, there was a funny tale in every one of them:

  • Our section turned out to be the only one in which every team won a game
  • Karina Gale & Matty Hoskin won every game despite finishing on negative shots in 2 of them.
  • Phil & Vicky Herbert got through over Mark Ellis & Sue Barrow thanks to Adam Mac giving away shot to the Herberts with the last bowl of the tiebreak.
  • Joe & Robin Angel lost Section 4 on shots up after losing the last tiebreak to the Careys, allowing defending champs Jaxon Butler and the artist formerly known as Laura Merz (now Butler) to progress.
  • And finally, Greg & Sue Hogg got through by 4 shots over Steve Salamon & Deb Kalinowsky, due to Steve & Deb losing their second game on the last bowl of the tiebreak, despite belting Greg & Sue first up.

However, immediately after we finished, Helen let me know she had her uncle’s 90th birthday to attend in Beacon on the night of the 17th, and would make an effort to drive back early that Sunday morning (Beacon to Perth is a 3.5 hour drive on a good day) before we played the Semi at 11 o’clock…

Fast forward to the morning of Monday the 12th, and Helen sent me a note saying she got the tap on the shoulder and wouldn’t be able to drive on Sunday, but she’d happily get me a “Good player” as a substitute, and as I found out via Helen this week, she did ask Kristina Krstic if she’d play as a sub, and Krissy (allegedly) said yes, although that choice was (allegedly) vetoed by club captain & organiser Neil Edwards under the proviso that you need to get a like for like player as a substitute, and unfortunately Helen hasn’t won a Commonwealth Games Gold Medal.

Still, Krissy winning that Comm Games Gold would’ve been a distant second to carrying me to a club title.

Following on from that message, Hels sent a quick series of SOS calls to the Tuesday PL team that were still eligible, and 20 minutes later I was informed my “Good player” as a substitute was none other than Hailey Packer, the current WA Women’s State Singles champion, one-time State Triples champion, twice State Fours champion (with Helen), WA state representative, and back in April of this year was ranked as the No.1 Women’s bowler in Australia.

Currently ranked at No.5 nationwide as of the November 2022 Update

What a heck of a great club we’ve got on Challenger Avenue.

I checked with the CSIRO, and they confirmed the chances of myself playing with a player like Hailey Packer are rarer than Halley’s Comet, which supposedly passes the Earth once every 76 years…

So in this case it wasn’t Halley’s Comet for me, it was Hailey’s Comet.

Still, if the thought of me playing with the Annie Oakley of bowlers is brilliant, this is where the story gets even funnier.

By rule, substitutes can’t play as skips, and that meant yours truly, whose major experience as a skip in pairs was bullshitting my way through Saturday social pairs this offseason, was skipping for a Premier League skip + State Singles champion in a major club semi-final.

If I could describe my feelings at that moment, it was a combination of ‘I’m shitting bricks’ and ‘This could be the funniest thing anyone’s seen since The Life Of Brian.’

Eventually we got round to Sunday morning and watched on as the clash between the Herberts and Gale/Hoskin went to a tiebreak, and it was a huge effort by Karina to even get up on Sunday morning after she’d had her 60th birthday party the night before (In fact, everyone on that rink attended), but Karina kicked off her 60s on a winning note as Matty managed to edge out ‘Floppy’ Herbert to hold shot, setting up the Semi Final against Hailey and myself, while Butler/Butler faced Hogg/Hogg.

Hails watching on

With our simple gameplan of Hailey working the pedals and me keeping my hands at 10 and 2, we started off reasonably well by picking up 2 on the 1st End, then it was blow for blow as Matty & Karina got 3 out of the next 4 ends to lead 4-3 after 5, at which point came the key moment of the set, as we’d managed to get to 2 up with 1 bowl to come, and myself and Hailey had both seen a window on the wide hand to get a 3…

Unfortunately, I played it too narrow, hit up a front bowl belonging to Matty, and gave away shot to go 3-5 down.

Funnily enough, in Saturday Pennants against Hilton Park the day before, my skip Wayne Heldt had done the exact same thing on the 14th end, which was a vital moment given the 1 Blue team did draw the aggregate 75-75, although we did recover and win our rink 20-19.

So we dropped another couple of 1s after not getting much luck our way (Karina shanked a drive and got a wick, I landed a drive but couldn’t quite get the shot), so going down to the last end we were 7-3 down, and Hailey called me on another drive after we went 2 down with no realistic avenue to getting 4 shots, but I wound up surprising myself by smashing the jack out the back to give us 2 shots, Karina then had a paddock to draw into to get 2nd shot, which she did by a freckle just inside the boundary line, but not to be outdone Hailey called me to play wide with weight to see if I could hit the last bowl and potentially another back bowl to get us a miracle 4…

I did get the wide bowl to give us 2, but the angle just wasn’t there, so we lost the 1st Set 7-5.

So then it came down to the 2nd Set, and in a case of deja vu we picked up 2 to begin the set, as Hailey now controlled the mat and started having what I’d describe as a Sunday roll-up, and it was quite enthralling to watch her routine as she landed bowl after bowl within 2 feet, even as Matty put down a couple of crackers to beat her out.

It was also during the 2nd Set that I had my highlight of the whole experience, which came when Hailey had put a bowl short by a metre on the first bowl of an end, and I felt compelled to say to one of the best bowlers in Australia:

“Just get one in the head.”

And to Hailey’s credit, she did.

So after we landed a heap of good bowls thanks to great calls from Hailey, and learned from mistakes from the 1st Set, we were 8-3 up with 2 ends to play, and on that penultimate end Hailey was holding 2 and had put a bowl a metre back, and we all knew Karina was going to have an almighty run at the jack, so we had to get one back close to the ditch, and first bowl wound up adding to the count, second bowl I played with too much weight and put it in the ditch, but the third and final bowl finished out the back among the catchers that Matty had misplaced, so we seemingly had all bases covered.

In reply, Karina’s first 2 bowls weren’t there, then on the last bowl she went the wide hand drive, got the jack clean and put it in the ditch, and unfortunately for us, my back bowl was right while the jack went left, so they picked up 3, although Hailey got confused and called it 1 after mistaking my bowl for Matty’s, because they both have big yellow streaks on them.

Would’ve preferred dropping the 1, to be honest.

That meant it was 8-6 with an end to play, and a drawn set would mean it was game over, but Hailey started superbly by trailing the jack, then sat one 2 feet behind waiting for the hit which stayed as shot until Karina sat her out to get shot, leaving the birthday lady with one bowl to seal the game, and I had one thought in my head that if she missed it and we were only 1 down, then we’d take it and play the tiebreak….

I was punished for dreaming, as Karina somehow snuck her bowl in by a whisker and got second shot, leaving me with one bowl to try and do something, so I played narrow hand with a bit of weight hunting for a wick off a short bowl, but I had an inkling straight out of the hand it was going to be narrow, it missed the bowl by *that* much, we dropped 2, so it was an 8-8 draw and game, set, match.

Pain

Touching back on the old case of deja vu, it was unfortunate for Hailey because she’d also been knocked out in the Semi Finals of the State Pairs (playing with Laura) on the last end 2 days earlier.

Even in a crushing narrow defeat, I can honestly say it was an absolute once in a lifetime thrill getting to play with Hailey, and I surprised myself by playing reasonably well under the circumstances, given how little experience as a skip I have, but there were a couple of times, especially on the last end, where the lack of experience playing skip showed (eg not going down to look at the head), and to call a spade a spade, not having Helen as skip, and not being allowed to let Hailey play skip, really hurt.

Two things I also found playing skip (compared to playing lead) at that level that worked in my favour were actually having a point of reference for weight when drawing shot, having something in the head to sit on (The old use and abuse tactic), and being able to play with weight when Hailey called me to, and once again, I surprised myself with the amount of times I actually landed the bowl.

Providing the finish to this story, I can say that it took the champions to defeat the pair of us, as Karina and Matty went on to defeat Laura & Jaxon in a tiebreak in the final to deny them the repeat, and the ending was set up when Laura had a bowl to win it on the last end after re-spotting the jack on the T, followed by a resting toucher, but her bowl was just wide against the wind, and went through by 2 feet…

Then in the tiebreak, Matty won the toss for the mat, but willingly gave up the mat so Karina could have the last shot, and in one of the funnier endings, Matty was confident they had shot before Karina played the last bowl (it turned out they had shot by a good margin), but he still made her play the bowl, which could’ve ended in tears if Karina hit a short bowl in for shot…

With an appropriate finish to the day and the tournament, Karina absolutely drew the shot with a stone cold draw.

Karina’s son Jason watching on down the far end

What a 60th birthday present… on the other hand, Matty loves using the saying that even a blind squirrel finds a nut, and he proved himself correct on Sunday.

And the Butlers, who most definitely aren’t related or married, as Jaxon comes from the Wheatbelt hamlet of Bruce Rock, and Laura loiters around North Perth.

So assuming there’s no 90th birthdays in Beacon in late December of 2023, then I’m on a pinky promise, the most unbreakable kind of promise, to play with Helen in the Mixed Pairs once more.

And that was my last game of competitive bowls of 2022, and here’s a summary of my progress in 2022.

I started it playing in Division 5 White on a Thursday.

I finished it playing with Helen Heal & Hailey Packer.

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