Merrylands Bowling Club hoping to go one better as Champions League begins

Who will be champions? Michael Clarke and Tom Ellem, two of the Merrylands Bowling club team for the NSW Champions League.
Who will be champions? Michael Clarke and Tom Ellem, two of the Merrylands Bowling club team for the NSW Champions League.

Merrylands Bowling Club will put a competitive team into the NSW Champions League beginning on August 15, with diversity becoming a strength at the club.

The competition pits the best bowls teams from all over the state against one another.

Each side has a quota of marquee players and international representatives and inter-state players often join teams, making the competition particularly tough.

Merrylands has a great recent track record in the competition, finishing runners-up last year and winning it the two years prior.

Michael Clarke used to turn out for St Johns Park and then Cabramatta but has enjoyed his time at Merrylands since moving there.

‘‘Merrylands have been very good to me and we have been very successful so far this year, so I’m looking forward to the champions league,’’ he said.

Clarke, 51, believes the team has a shot at going all the way.

‘‘We have a very good side this year,’’ Clarke said.

‘‘I think, on paper, we are very strong up front and very strong back end, so the team is more balanced than recent years.’’

The first round sees Merrylands take on a NSW Ladies representative team at St Johns Park and Clarke isn’t underestimating the strength of their opposition.

‘‘The women are all very good players, so that will be an interesting match up,’’ Clarke said.

‘‘Overall obviously last year’s winner, Taren Point, will be very strong as well as Cabramatta, they’re always in at the back end of the competition.’’

Bowls is far from an exclusionary sport, in fact Merrylands has a squad of young and old players as well as a female member.

Val Smith moved to Australia from across the Tasman last November to organise women’s bowls at Merrylands because it presented an opportunity to work with her sport.

‘‘In New Zealand there isn’t much money in bowls; to play at the higher level it is financially difficult,’’ she said.

‘‘I’ve played sport all my life and it was an opportunity to work in the job doing what you love doing.’’

Smith is also an example of the high-quality bowls in the champions league format, having represented New Zealand at the Glasgow Commonwealth games in fours and pairs.

‘‘It is great that there are women involved in the competition,’’ said Smith.

‘‘It’s great to have the opportunity to play at the higher level where we can gauge ourselves against the best male bowlers in the state.’’

Neil Burckett, team member and coach, moved from South Africa six years ago to take up residence in Merrylands and mentor younger players.

He is happy with the progress younger bowlers are making at the club.

‘‘Its very rewarding being a coach - we have a fair few youngsters coming through,’’ he said.

‘‘Last year I skippered the young side and they’ve all come on and matured.’’

The life of coaching suits the 66 year old, Burckett, who played over 500 games for South Africa. 

‘‘Hopefully the hierarchy are happy with the job I’ve done,’’ said Burckett.

‘‘When I go back and see the grandkids in South Africa all my friends say ‘gee you look like you’ve been on yacht!’’’