NEW Zealand shearers and wool handlers will be chasing an elusive trans-Tasman treble at Australia’s national titles in South Australia this weekend.
The Shearing Sports New Zealand shearing team is coming to the Australian National Shearing and Woolhandling Championships with strong hopes of winning two tests on the away leg of an annual trans-Tasman series, and a dream of winning all three.
The test matches, part of a series that started in 1974, will be held on Saturday 20 October during the championships in Jamestown, a town about 200km north of state capital Adelaide.
The strongest Kiwi hopes are held for wool handlers Cushla Abraham, of Masterton, and long-time South Otago-based Tia Potae, from Harataunga, near Coromandel town Kennedy Bay. New Zealand has won 35 of the 46 wool handling tests since 1998, and blade shearers Tony Dobbs, of Fairlie, and Allen Gemmell, of Loburn, with New Zealand have won all 14 of the blade tests since the series began in 2010.
Veteran Southland machine shearer Nathan Stratford, who has shorn 17 tests since his debut at Hay in New South Wales in 2006, recognises it’s a tougher call for himself and team mates Roxburgh-based fellow Southland gun Leon Samuels and Marlborough shearer and contractor Angus Moore.
New Zealand hasn’t won a machine shearing test in Australia since 2010 and Australia has won 37 of the 69 tests since the series started in Euroa, Victoria, in 1974.
New Zealand hopes are bolstered by the strength of the team, with all seven having previously represented their country, and Stratford, Samuels and Moore all winners of top all-breeds event the PGG Wrightson Vetmed National Shearing Circuit and acknowledged performers on the South Island varietals of the fine wooled Merino.
The big challenge is the tougher Australian Merino, often bigger and with harder skin, bred in and for the tough conditions of the Australian outback.
But the weather is expected to be a little kinder to the Kiwis, with forecasts for maximum temperatures of 31deg for practice on Friday and 19deg for the day of the internationals.
For Masterton wool handler Cushla Abraham, who formed a rookie international partnership with Napier competitor Angela Stevens in the 2022-2023 team, the venture is a chance to score a second win in two tests in Australia, the pair having won last year in Bendigo, Victoria, and atone for their loss to veteran Australian international Racheal Hutchison and test-match newcomer Mark Purcell at the Golden Shears in Masterton in March.
Having won selection last season by winning the New Zealand Merino Shears Open woolhandling final in Alexandra, Abraham retained a place by winning the North Island Woolhandling Circuit Open final in March, and is the only North Island member of the test matches seven.
Potae, previously a trans-Tasman international in 2005-2006 and 2013-2014, regained a New Zealand shirt by winning the 2023 Merinos title three weeks ago.
Abraham says anyone wanting to represent New Zealand needs to “apply themselves and work hard”, and that with that and the combined experience the pair “will be able to give the Aussies a good battle.”
“The trans-Tasman is all about teamwork,” she said.
“We need to know where each person excels to be able to benefit from that and hopefully get the advantage.
“Tia is a very accomplished wool classer and I think her experience will shine, and I have been able to be consistent in Merino competition missing,” she said.
Her 2022 Merinos win in Alexandra win was followed by missing a place in last month’s final by just 0.6pts.
Abraham, also a competent shearer with a string of wins in the lower grades, said it had always been “a passion” to represent New Zealand, and as newcomers last year she and Stevens “definitely did our homework” and came together “as best we could” to claim the win in Bendigo at their first outing.
Stratford, whose six trans-Tasman series wins have all been in Masterton, says the Australians are “the best Merino shearers in the world,” and it won’t be any different in the current makeup headed by Daniel McIntyre, who has had wins in 11 of his 15 tests, and who, according to close watchers would have successfully defended the New Zealand Merinos title last month had it not been for a blemish in the semi-finals.
Australia will field its NZ team
McIntyre is expected to team with 2023 world championships teammate Nathan Meaney and third member Sam Mackrill, while veteran Australian representative Johnathan Dalla, close to home in South Australia, will pair with world championships teammate Andrew Murray in the blade shearing test.
Dalla and Dobbs are two of the world’s most internationally experienced in test matches. Dalla has been a world championships representative since 2008 and has shorn in all but one of the 14 trans-Tasman match-ups. Dobbs was a world teams title winner in 2019 and has shorn 10 of the tests.
Team manager and Pio Pio shearing contractor Mark Barrowcliffe, who will also judge during the shearing, said New Zealand this year has a “bloody strong team”, with Samuels already in Australia shearing, after winning the Merinos final in Alexandra, with strong hopes of winning the woolhandling and blades shearing and better-than-usual chance of claiming the elusive machine-shearing honours. Also in the party is woolhandling judge Heidi Middleton, of Winton.
While held home and away annually, the trans-Tasman tests were shearing-only for the first 10 years before competition was suspended as a consequence of industrial disputes in the industry in Australias, with 13 years passing before the contests resumed, adding firstly the wool handling and another decade-plus later the blades shearing.