The stage is set for a historic, fifth instalment of the $100,000 Bowls Premier League, which will take place on a portable green located inside a Basketball stadium in Auckland, New Zealand next week.
When the lights come on for the first night’s play on Monday, 24 of the world’s best players will step out onto the North Shore Events Centre onto a portable bowls rink, something unique for the sport in the Southern Hemisphere.
The made-for-television event will take place in front of a bustling live audience at North Shore Events Centre, and beamed to thousands of home viewers tuned into Sky Sport NZ and Fox Sports Australia, with 20 hours of live coverage across the four nights of competition.
The evolution of the game’s format has been compared to 20-20 cricket which stands the BPL alone as the premier televised bowls event in the world; the atmosphere is electric, the players entertain with their enthusiasm for the game and immense skills, there are substitutes, power-plays, music, shot clocks and 20 hours of live television that promotes the sport of bowls as a pursuit for people of all ages.
With the BPL now into its fifth year of competition, eight franchises from around Australia and New Zealand are ready to do battle for their slice of the $100,000 prize pool and the title of BPL05 champion; a title that will not come easily with another quality field assembled by every franchise.
Big name players have travelled over the Tasman with their eyes on the prize; world champions, Commonwealth Games gold medallists, national title holders and of course the best of the best New Zealand bowlers are ready to fight off the Aussie challengers.
BPL05 will be the second consecutive year a female competitor will line-up in each of the eight franchises, and all eight bring with them their experience of BPL04 with no franchises opting to change their female player for 2017.
The defending champions, BCiB Sydney Lions will arrive in New Zealand with the same team that claimed the spoils in BPL04 jus three short months ago.
The BCiB Sydney Lions are one of the more experienced teams in the competition this year with three Australian Jackaroo Squad members, Australia’s most capped international bowler Karen Murphy, Australian singles representative Aron Sherriff and Australia’s most promising young star Ben Twist.
Former BPL champions, the TOWER New Zealand Blackjacks have made two changes to their team for BPL05 with the return of their star player Jo Edwards after missing the last BPL due to personal reasons and the inclusion of the newly crowned World Fours Champion Blake Signal.
Champion Shannon McIlroy will have the advantage of home crowds on his side when he dons the Blackjacks kit again.
The franchise travelling the furthest distance is the team from the west, the Crown Perth Suns who will be looking to break a two-year drought of contesting a finals series.
The Suns have opted for just one change to their team; replacing Tom Mitchell is a relatively unknown quantity in John Slavich, a Western Australian skip and WA State Champion who will join Pieter Harris and Kristina Krstic, both of which had great BPL04 campaigns.
Another franchise activating one change to their line-up is the Brisbane Pirates who have said farewell to Commonwealth Games gold medallist Kelvin Kerkow, and the man tasked with filling those big shoes is four-time World Cup Singles Champion Jeremy Henry.
Australia’s number one ranked female bowler Natasha Scott and current Queensland representative Sean Baker will be hoping for a slight improvement for their 2017 campaign to guide the Pirates back into the finals race after four years of failing to qualify in the top four.
The Brisbane Pirates have also got a new coach in town, poaching the former New Zealand National Coach Dave Edwards who is now an employee of the Brisbane Pirates owner, Club Pine Rivers in Brisbane’s Moreton Bay Region.
Talk about a stable of stars; the Gold Coast Hawks will come out all guns blazing this year in search of their maiden BPL crown with three of Australia’s best teaming up for the Club Helensvale owned franchise.
The Gold Coast Hawks have reverted to their team from BPL03 which made the finals for the first time; Australian Jackaroos Captain Lynsey Clarke will lead the charge with two of Australia’s most successful male representative’s Mark Casey and Brett Wilkie.
South Australian bowlers have had plenty of reasons to smile in past BPLs, having witnessed the Adelaide Endurance contest all four finals campaigns, only to go down narrowly to the Brisbane Gold, Murray Steamers and Tower New Zealand Blackjacks in three out of four grand finals.
Adelaide Endurance have been the most consistent team in the BPL but are now looking to improve upon their steady performances by holding up the prestigious trophy and sharing in the $25,000 first prize at the end of four tough days of competition across the ditch.
The Endurance have the problem of narrowing down three Australian Jackaroos into two positions, indeed a great problem to have, but in what has become a fair rotation system for the Reds, Max Kleinig and Scott Thulborn get the nod for BPL05, along with South Australia’s best female bowler Breeanna Johnson (nee Dickson).
The Blundstone Melbourne Roys represent Gen Y and are by far the youngest team in BPL05.
With a team average age of just 21, Tiffany Brodie (18), Dylan Fisher (23), and Aaron Wilson (24) are the young whipper snappers to watch out for in BPL05.
BPL02 champions the Murray Steamers were just one game away from creating history as the only team to win dual BPL titles, but that was taken away from them by an incredible performance from the Sydney Lions in the BPL04 grand final.
Two-time Australian Bowler of the Year and Canadian-born representative Ryan Bester is always in the mix at major events, Ellen Ryan is one of the country’s most promising rising stars and Michael Walker, who has already tasted success representing the Steamers, form their powerhouse unchanged line-up.
Don’t for a second think there’s no rivalry among the coaches with the likes of former international stars Steve Glasson OAM (BCiB Sydney Lions), Sharon Sims (New Zealand Blackjacks) and Nathan Rice (Gold Coast Hawks) all hoping to steer their side to victory and gain some bragging rights of their own.
The Bowls Premier League, held from February 27 to March 2, will feature 20 hours of live broadcast, from 6.00pm to 11.00pm NZDT on Sport Sport NZ and 4.00pm to 9.00pm AEDT on Fox Sports Australia.