In a year decimated by the COVID lockdown, Warilla Bowls have triumphed at zone, state and national level in another powerhouse display by one of the top clubs in the country.
Warilla won two Zone 16 Pennant flags - in grades one and seven - while grade three also made the zone grand final and the Gorillas qualified for the playoffs in grades two and five. While there was no surprise in Warilla clinching another zone flag in the top grade after an unbeaten season, there was plenty of merit in their grade-seven triumph.
The Gorillas finished minor premiers in their six-team section, then beat Scarborough Wombarra in the major semi, before a stirring 54-53 comeback win over Windang in the grand final.
In a club known for its international stars, there was plenty of pride for the battlers in grade seven who are now champions. The Zone 16 flag winners in all seven grades are now hoping Bowls NSW Ltd can find space in the 2022 calendar to hold the 2021 State Pennant Finals.
COVID took a toll on Warilla's capacity to complete its Club Championships for 2021. Just one title was decided, with Stan Wilson and Alex Hamilton winning the Minor Pairs. A number of events are through to the final including the Major Singles with Jackaroos star Corey Wedlock to take on Irish international Gary Kelly. Todd James is due to face Noel Stopher in Minor Singles, while Denis Hitchen will meet Eric Glasson in the over-60s Singles. The Triples is down to Peter Wilson, Steve Dolbel and John Pendergast meeting Roger Duggan, Michael Thorne and Brendan Aquilina for the title. In Club Fours, Wilson, Dolbel and Pendergast along with Richard Lewis will take on Jimmy McRorie, Rob Glen, Eric Haynes and Jeremy Henry in the decider. Among Warilla's 2021 standout achievements was their dominance of the rescheduled 2020 State Championships at Ettalong. Henry and Aaron Teys backed up their zone triumph in Open Pairs by winning the state crown, with Brendan Aquilina, Corey Wedlock and Gary Kelly winning the state Triples.
Warilla made it a hat-trick with Jamie Turner, Aquilina, Wedlock and Teys winning the state Fours, while Wedlock went within an ace of completing an unprecedented one-club clean-sweep after reaching the Singles final.
Warilla was also a force in the Zone Championships with new recruit Lee Stinson winning the Singles, plus partnering Aquilina to take out the Zone Pairs. Thorne, Eric Haynes, Jamie Mitchell and Henry won the Zone Fours, while Ken and Noel Stopher claimed the Reserve Pairs for the second time in three years.
Warilla dominated the rescheduled 2020 National Championships with Aquilina, Wedlock and Kelly the Triples champs, while Turner, Aquilina, Wedlock and Teys won the Australian Fours. Henry and Teys won a bronze medal in Pairs.
Women's game left in limbo
The Illawarra District Womens Bowls Association is awaiting an update from Bowls NSW Ltd over the planning of District events for 2022 and whether any 2021 state events will be rescheduled for early next year.
Illawarra District was able to complete its scheduled state events for 2021, except for the Mixed Pairs and a couple of regional playoffs as qualifiers for the 2021 State Championships, which were cancelled last month.
Illawarra District spokeswoman Brenda Cairney said with IDWBA clubs still in lockdown, it was a matter of waiting until an announcement from the newly-merged Bowls NSW Ltd over what plans they had for 2022.
All Illawarra women's clubs have been unable to complete their own championships due to the COVID lockdown.
Time is running out for the lockdown to be lifted and the championships to be rescheduled before the end of the year.
Many clubs will likely have an incomplete season in 2021, especially given the details over how clubs will be able to open once lockdown is lifted have yet to be released and most clubs end their bowls activities for the year in early December.
If the 2022 District season follows the 2021 program, then the District season will begin with Minor Singles and District Fours in January.
Keeping a healthy mind, body
Maintaining a positive mindset and staying fit have never been more important for our leading bowlers who have been shut out of training and competitions due to the COVID lockdown.
Most of Zone 16 has been in lockdown for three months, which has been particularly taxing for the area's state and national representatives, with no opportunity to even get practice time on the green. New Bowls Australia national assistant coach Karen Murphy effectively began her new role at the start of the widespread NSW lockdown. Murphy and national coach Garry Willis have been busy keeping in touch with players.
"We're trying to keep them motivated and upbeat and trying to help them set goals, so if we can't get on the green or can't prepare for a Commonwealth Games trial for Birmingham, let's do the one percenters that we can control," she said.
Murphy said focus on fitness, nutrition and a positive mindset was vital preparation for when lockdown was lifted and bowls eventually returns in some form.
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