Summerset Open win puts Tauranga lawn bowler Graham Skellern one title away from new Bowls NZ award
Ann Wright, Chief Executive Officer of Bowls NZ, left to Bruce Wakefield, champions of the 2023 Summerset Open Disability Pairs, and Tauranga’s Graham Skellern. Photo / Barry Jordan
After back-to-back wins, Tauranga lawn bowler Graham Skellern is now just one triumph away from becoming the first person to win a new award created by the sport’s national body.
The Matapihi man and Timaru playing partner Bruce Wakefield won the Summerset Open Disability Pairs Champions at Browns Bay Bowling Club on Jan. 9, beating Steve Delaney and Jonathan Radka in the final.
Skellern, who writes for NZME, has amassed four national para-athlete titles in the past four years – one more would see him win a Gold Star award from Bowls New Zealand.
“I’m really proud of myself to have defended the Summerset Open doubles title with Bruce as the level of competition has definitely improved and this is my fourth national title in four years with two doubles wins with Bruce and two singles titles.”
Advertise with NZME.
“I definitely had to get some great shots as this year’s competition was pretty tough. Unfortunately I lost in the singles quarterfinals to Carolyn Crawford from Dunedin. Darren Wolland, also from Dunedin, who has just arrived on the bowling scene, won the singles title.”
Skellern also competed in the Burnside Invitational Pairs competition with Wakefield in Christchurch last week, playing eight games but not qualifying for the semifinals.
He said on Thursday: “It’s probably one of the most prestigious invitationals with 48 teams taking part, including four teams from Australia, and all Australian players are representatives of the Commonwealth Games, so the competition will be quite tough.”
“Bruce and I were invited as we are the current national pairs champions and our win on Monday added a little more prestige to our commitment. However, as with any sport, it really depends on what’s happening on the day. To win this invitation would be phenomenal.”
Advertise with NZME.
Skellern said his and Wakefield’s first games were against Australian representative duo Aaron Teys and Cody Packer.
Skellern, who contracted polio when he was six months old, has been bowling for 40 years and competes nationally at all levels, including his first Para Men’s Pairs Commonwealth Games competition with Mark Noble in Birmingham last year.
His list of other accomplishments on the bowling green includes three Superbowl singles wins, being a four-time semi-finalist at the New Zealand Open Championships, and he also has 15 regional titles.
“But whenever I play, my philosophy is not to focus too much on what happened before each competition and focus on making sure I’m playing my best shots so the opponents know they have one will have real struggle.”
Skellern was waiting to hear if he and Wakefield would be selected for the multi-nations tournament in Australia at the end of March, which will feature women’s and men’s para-pair titles – the selection is expected to be announced sometime this week .
“And I would love to be selected to compete at the World Champions on the Gold Coast at the end of August.”
Skellern is also playing in the qualifiers after picking a single contest at Takapuna Bowling Club on January 21st.
Wakefield was Summerset Para-Athlete of the Year (B5-B8) three times, including 2021, and also won a silver medal in the B6/7/8 Open Triples competition at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games alongside Barry Wynks and Mark Noble.
On Thursday, Wakefield said the Summerset Open Disability Pairs title defense with Skellern was a “very good” win and they hoped to emulate that success in Christchurch.
“It’s exciting as this is one of the most coveted competitions to enter. But it’s a big step up from the national champions and if Graham and I end up in the top half of the pack then we’ll do damn well.”
Advertise with NZME.
Wakefield said he just started bowling at West End Club in Timaru after playing for Burnside Bowling Club for 22 years and won all three games on his debut as a member of the South Canterbury Men’s Team.
“And I’m really loving my bowls at the moment, and I’ll keep playing as long as my body keeps holding it together.”
Mark Cameron, CEO of Bowls New Zealand, acknowledged the recent success of Skellern and Wakefield.
“Graham and Bruce are an impressive team and it came as no surprise to see them back at our Summerset Nationals. The Open Disability Grad is a new initiative from Bowls New Zealand and the fact that so many para athletes competed this year is a testament to their success.
“Bowls New Zealand will award a Gold Star to para athletes who win five of our national para events and Graham now leads the field with four titles as he aims to become the first to win five when we hold the championships in Christchurch next year. ” he said.