Bellis looks back fondly on golden age

Peter Belliss has a roll-up on the Taieri green last Thursday before the national championships. Photo: Wayne Parsons
Peter Belliss has a roll-up on the Taieri green last Thursday before the national championships. Photo: Wayne Parsons
One of the inaugural inductees into the Bowls New Zealand Hall of Fame, Peter Belliss MBE is arguably the most honoured bowler competing at the national championships in Dunedin.

His original sporting direction was in rugby, given his family history. Grandfather Moke Belliss was an All Black in 1920-23 and captain on the 1922 tour to Australia.

''He scored the first try against the 1921 Springboks for the All Blacks in the first test on Carisbrook,'' he said proudly.

His father, Jack, played for Auckland and Whanganui during a first-class career spanning 1937 to 1953.

Peter played for Whanganui in the early 1970s and at club level for Kaierau with players such as All Black Bill Osborne.

''I was playing rugby and bowls, which was a little bit unusual at the time,'' he said.

But an Achilles injury curtailed his rugby career in 1977, leading to a fulltime focus on bowls.

''My bowling career was getting stronger and better and I was never going to be an All Black,'' he said having tinkered with bowls since the age of 5 when the Aramaho Bowling Club was built at the back of his parents' place.

Four world titles, four Commonwealth Games, three national singles titles, two national pairs titles and three national fours titles later, Belliss (66) is still very much a part of the national bowls scene and is in Dunedin to try to successfully defend the fours title.

''Fours is the ultimate game we have in bowls where teamwork becomes very important and I'm fortunate that I'm playing with a couple of very good friends, and I think that certainly helps,'' he said.

''Defending any title is extremely hard to do and we're down here to do ourselves proud.''

He added that some very good teams had been put together for these championships and that even getting through the qualifying stage was tough.

Belliss has teamed up again with Richard Girvan and Lance Tasker from last year's winning combination, but with Blake Signal unavailable, New South Wales champion Mick Beesley came into the team.

Beesley's inclusion made it one of the most experienced fours at the championships. They have qualified for post-section play after finishing third in section one.

Belliss well remembers playing at his first national championships in 1970 and the first of five national titles he achieved in the singles competition in 1981.

He fondly reflects on what was a golden age for bowls in New Zealand in the 1970s. Because of the number of players around the clubs at the time, in many instances there was a waiting list for membership. For instance, when he won the singles title in 1981 there were 1500 in the field.

''It showed that numbers were at their greatest in that period. And there were lots of really good players. I think I played something like 15 or 16 matches to win,'' he said, adding that these days you do not have to win so many matches to get through.

''It was certainly something special to be part of. The singles were certainly my go, but these days I just make up the numbers in singles play, to be fair.''

Belliss is once again partnering Tasker in the pairs, a title they won in 1995.

''I like to think that we are still competitive, even though we're getting a bit long in the tooth these days.

''And there are a lot of fine young players on their way up, and that's exciting because I'm also a New Zealand selector. So I get to see them and play against them. That's something that's a bit special.''

Belliss said that while the numbers were not as they once were, bowls had some young and exciting talent coming through. While the quantity may not be as it was, the quality in the fields was top heavy, making qualifying very difficult.

He said that as a selector it was certainly one of the events they look at for selection such as Commonwealth Games.

''It's the last of seven events that we look at,'' adding that the national event is an important indicator given that it goes for 12 days, a similar length of time to the world championships and Commonwealth Games.

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