Easter 1998 ... three club members decide to represent the South Island at the National Triples Championship held in Napier. Steve Thwaites, Neil Satherley and Craig McKenzie, having only just started playing petanque, thought that as South Island Triples Champions they should head off up north and represent the South. That year the winners were to represent NZ at the World Championships to be held in the Canary Islands.
They were told they would be lambs going to the slaughter but this did not put them off, as petanque was really an excuse for a boys' weekend away. They arrived in Napier, Neil with his boules in a pillowcase, Steve with his still-black CZ Noir Integrale boules and Craig with none at all ! Craig had planned to buy some prior to the event as they were typically on sale during national tournaments. Unfortunately not that year ! Noel Hunt, the then PNZ President, lent Craig his set.
Plan One was to have fun ... Plan Two was to make the championship (the top 16). This in itself was quite a feat however it's nice to be naive. After a very long day the boys did the unthinkable and made the top 16. One game of the championship round was played before the end of the day, which the trio lost. Having made the championship and believing it was all over the boys went off to celebrate (the celebrations eventually finishing in the very small hours of the morning).
Along came Day Two and the three arrive at the petanque terrain 30 minutes late. They had been so quick off the mark leaving to celebrate that they missed the news that the next day's play was starting earlier than advertised. They managed to argue their way out of disqualification on the basis that the announcement should have been made earlier and went on to play a game that lasted 2.5hrs ! (Craig needing to lie down during the game due to the night before). They won the momentous game and went on to eventually make the semi finals. Noel Hunt regretted lending Craig his boules when he saw his wife eliminated by them in the semi final. The day's play was well behind schedule, and the semi finals were completed under car lights.
Due to lack of light it was decided that the final (being too important) could not be played and was put off until the Monday morning. Steve, Craig and Neil had flights to catch that night and were unable to change them without penalty, so they volunteered to forfeit the final. Then the dynamic Cam Calder ... 'Mr Petanque NZ' ... stood up in the middle of the bar and announced 'I'm not going to let these guys who have come all the way from the South Island and have made the final of the Air New Zealand National Triples go home tonight, they are playing in the final'. He whipped off his hat threw in $100 and started up a good old fashion whip-a-round. There was a huge amount of applause and 'here heres' and within minutes enough money was presented to the team to pay for the change in flights. Not a lot of sleeping took place Sunday night, but for different reasons this time.
Monday's big final wasn't much of a spectacle in terms of great play as both teams were so nervous. However it was very exciting as so much was at stake and the scores so close. Going into the second to last end, the Christchurch guys were down 9 – 12. Neil pointed an excellent boule and the opposition played all six of their boules and Neil's boule still held. The boys needed three more points to win a trip to the Canary Islands ! Unfortunately they were only able to score two more, one shot missing by just 74mm. Going into the last end at 12 - 12 things didn't go their way and the game was lost 13 - 12.
So remember when playing that important shot for the game, it's not just for the game 'it's for the Canary Islands' ! It's good to have dreams ... they are not always as far out of reach as you might think.
Since then the boys have been to a number of National tournaments flying the Christchurch flag. It's always great fun to compete with, and meet, the greater petanque family. Everywhere you go the people are friendly, keen to coach etc. It's a great experience to go to national tournaments, the boys highly recommend it.
Some of their highlights (and antics):
1998: Runners up National Triples. Not knowing if the Corn Exchange (otherwise known as the Corn-fritter) appreciated your patronage or if they had banned you from re-entering? (They didn't stop bringing the wine during our hooley hooley games however). Midnight skinny dipping in the dirty swimming pool and getting an ear infection.
1999: Plate winners National Triples. Steve & Georgio trying to rid themselves of the evil spirit, Rum, by baptising themselves in the Avon early in the morning to the disgust of two Merivale ladies walking their Corgies.
2000: Quarter Finalist National Singles, Third National Doubles.
2001: Runners Up National Doubles, Fourth National Triples, Renting a tourist studio right on the beach front in Bayview.
2002: Runners Up National Triples, Third National Doubles, and Third National Shooting Competition.
2003: Winners of Bowl National Triples plus a number of Club championships.