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Canadian Ryan Bester heads a star-studded field of 16 international bowlers playing in the 27th annual North East Valley Invitation Singles at Labour Weekend.
Bester (32), who has won seven medals at Commonwealth Games and World Bowls, made his international debut at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games at the young age of 17.
His career highlight came at World Bowls in Ayr, Scotland, in 2004 when he won a gold medal in the pairs.
He became a celebrity in his small hometown of Hanover when he won the title with Keith Roney. The town fathers named a street after him, Ryan Bester Way.
Bester, who is now based in Australia and is a member of the Broadbeach Bowling Club on the Queensland Gold Coast, finished runner-up in the singles at the Commonwealth Games at Glasgow in 2014 and at World Bowls in Adelaide in 2012 and Christchurch last year.
Also playing in Dunedin will be Scotsman Kevin Anderson, who also plays for the Broadbeach club and will join Bester at next year’s Commonwealth Games bowls events, which are being held at the Broadbeach club.
Also playing in the Speight’s-sponsored event are Australians Aaron Wilson and Nathan Rice, who are expected to be in the Australian team at the Games.
They are sponsored to the event by Bowls Australia at the recommendation of Jackaroos head coach Steve Glasson, who recognises the value of the event in preparing his players for Commonwealth Games and World Bowls.
Wilson (25) won gold in the pairs and silver in the fours at World Bowls in Christchurch last year. Rice was in the gold medal-winning Australian pair at the Multi-Nations event on the Gold Coast this year. He won a silver medal in the fours and bronze in the pairs at World Bowls in Christchurch in 2008.
New Zealand world champions Mike Kernaghan (North East Valley) and Shannon McIlroy (Nelson) have both won the Speight’s Invitation singles three times. They will be joined in the field by Tony Grantham (North Harbour), who has come back into favour with the New Zealand selectors and is expected to be at the Commonwealth Games.
There will be nine former New Zealand representatives in the field at Labour Weekend. One who could cause an upset is former world champion Gary Lawson (Canterbury), who has finished runner-up on three occasions but has yet to win the big prize.
Two bowlers new to the event are former international amateur golfer Brent McEwan (Dunedin), who played more than 100 times for Otago at golf, and Paddy Stewart (Canterbury), who grew up in Alexandra and played premier rugby for Harbour in Dunedin. He won the New Zealand fours title two years ago.Bill Clements (Central Otago) will return to the green after being sidelined for 12 months. He has won a record 69 Central Otago titles.
Four North East Valley club players will be added to the field after qualifying games.
The invitation singles is recognised as the toughest annual singles event in New Zealand and is one of the best in Australasia.
There is prize money of $15,000 and the winner’s purse is $5000.
NEV Invitation Singles
Aaron Wilson (Australia), Nathan Rice (Australia), Mark Watt (NZ), Richard Girvan (NZ), Kevin Anderson (Scotland), Ryan Bester (Canada), Tony Grantham (North Harbour), Justin Goodwin (Auckland), Jamie Hill (Counties), Mike Carroll (Wellington), Philip Skoglund (Manawatu), Shannon McIlroy (Nelson), Andre Smith (Marlborough), Paddy Stewart (Canterbury), Stephen Ditfort (Canterbury), Shayne Sincock (Canterbury), Andrew Kelly (Canterbury), Gary Lawson (Canterbury), Sean O’Neill (Timaru), Bob McAuley (South Otago), Bill Clements (Central Otago), Sheldon Bagrie-Howley (Gore), Brent McEwan (Dunedin), Jonty Horwell (Dunedin), Dave Archer (Dunedin), Keanu Darby (NEV), Mike Kernaghan (NEV), Shaun Scott (NEV).