But, having secured the first of two New Zealand World Championships machine shearing berths by winning the Golden Shears title in Masterton again on March 4, Smith isn’t underestimating the job. He’s been beaten five times in finals this season and said he’s never seen such a line-up of contenders as there is challenging for the second place in the team, which will be decided in about 16 minutes of shearing on Saturday night.
The New Zealand Shears, first held in 1985 and cancelled in 2020 and 2022 because of the covid-19 crisis, starts on Thursday and end on Saturday.
The Hawke’s Bay gun, who grew-up in Northland, agrees “100%” that there are at least six or seven who would not surprise if they were to make the cut by beating him or being the best of the New Zealanders in the field behind him.
They are headed by another Northland shearer in Toa Henderson, who in winning 11 titles this season has beaten Smith in four finals and is well placed to be Shearing Sports New Zealand’s No 1-ranked shearer for the season, based on points for placings.
As it happens he has not yet reached a Golden Shears or New Zealand Shears Open final, but on Saturday again highlighted the potential when he won the Waitomo Caves Sports Shears final, shearing the 20 sheep in 15min 50sec, beating next-man-off Smith by 24 seconds – more than half a sheep – and ultimately by 2.3 points on the scoreboard.
Renowned quick shearers Digger Balme of Ōtorohanga and Leon Samuels of Invercargill, also in the four-man final, each finished more than a sheep behind the winner.
Samuels, who also shore with Smith in their second NZ team win over the Welsh Development team – having opened the three-match Wools of New Zealand Series with victory at the Waimarino Shears in Raetihi a week earlier – is among those most seriously challenging for the second place in the team for Scotland in June, having won two circuit finals on the Te Kūiti board in 2021, when New Zealand Shears was last held.
Others include 2017 world champion, 2008, 2009 and 2012 New Zealand Shears champion and 2021 runner-up John Kirkpatrick and world champion teams teammate Nathan Stratford, of Invercargill, as well as Eketāhuna shearer Hemi Braddick, fourth in 2021; he has had his first two Open wins and was fourth at the Golden Shears among nine finals this season. Te Kūiti’s Jack Fagan has yet to reach his hometown final but won national titles on Corriedales at Christchurch and lambs at Winton this season. Then there’s second-time Golden Shears finalist Paerata Abraham and brother-in-law and fellow Masterton shearer and two-times Te Kūiti lower-grades winner David Gordon, and Te Kūiti shearer Mark Grainger, who shore the 2021 final’s 20 sheep in under 16 minutes.
Expected to be pushing them all is Scottish international, 2012 world champion, 2015 Golden Shears winner and southern Hawke’s Bay farmer Gavin Mutch, who won a major title the Waimate Spring Shears in October and has since won three other finals.
Two who have not entered and who would have been among the contenders are Golden Shears runner-up Angus Moore, of Ward, in Marlborough, and former Golden Shears runner-up and Manawatū shearer Aaron Haynes, and Mataura shearer Brett Roberts, who was fifth at Te Kūiti in 2021.
Masterton shearer Adam Gordon won Saturday’s Senior Waitomo Caves final, turning the tables on Piopio shearer Clay Harris, to whom he had been runner-up at the Golden Shears. Wairoa shearer Bruce Grace scored his eighth Intermediate win of the season by 1.3 points from Sean Fagan of Te Kūiti, with England shearer Callum Bosley placed third. The Junior final provided a first win for Arvell Rapana, of Raetihi.
At Te Kūiti, the Open shearers also have the NZ Shears Circuit and North Island Shearer of the Year titles to shear for, with Smith a contender to repeat the treble he claimed in 2017.
Four-times Open woolhandling champion Joel Henare confirmed on Monday he won’t be defending the title, while nine-times winner Sheree Alabaster has also confirmed she will not be competing because of other commitments.
Their absences will open up the opportunities for local and Golden Shears runner-up Keryn Herbert, a Master Woolhandler, New Zealand 2010 world teams champion and 2023 Cook Islands World Championships selection Keryn Herbert, who is yet to win a Golden Shears or NZ Open title, while others in contention include Candy Hiri of Gore, and Ngaio Hanson of Eketāhuna, who in Masterton won the two NZ woolhandling berths at the World Championships.
Hanson’s sister, Ana Braddick, will also compete, after finishing third in the Golden Shears final, as will Napier-based Jasmin Tipoki, from Martinborough, who was fourth in Masterton.
Among other entries is 2013 winner Hanatia Tipene, the only winner of the NZ Shears Open woolhandling title apart from Henare and Alabaster since 2009.
It will be the last woolhandling show of the season, and the first in four weeks since the Golden Shears. Leading Senior contenders are expected to be 2021 Junior winner and 2023 Golden Shears Senior champion Rahera Kerr, of Hauturu, and Taumarunui sisters Te Anna and Vinniye Phillips.