Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Cookstown aim to sizzle again

Jeremy Henry has gone to Australia and will be conspicuous by his absence when the new bowls season starts

The outdoor bowls season starts in earnest on Saturday with the NIBA, NIPBA & NIPGBL all launching their programmes.

The NIBA was the most exciting league by far last season with the title undecided until the last game.

The drama over the last few weeks was immense as the top five all finished within five points of each other.

Added to the mix was controversy as the competitions committee had to intervene in re-arrangement of matches.

To their credit the NIBA officialdom have changed their rules to alleviate the end of season fixture pile-up that dogged many teams last year.

Match of the day across the three Associations should be the encounter between Lisnagarvey and Bangor.

The seasiders won the 2008 championship edging out Lisnagarvey which should make this game even more intriguing.

As it is first off, neither team will have a true idea of their form.

It will be a major blow to the loser who will be under pressure to make up for the lost ground.

Other clubs in contention will be Whitehead who won the title the previous three years, Balmoral and Divis.

The latter two will have to find more consistency; they were only one additional win away from the title but had hot and cold streaks losing games and rink points at inopportune times. The dark horse may be Banbridge.

Newly-promoted Dromore and Donaghadee have very difficult starts away to Balmoral and Banbridge respectively.

Cookstown ran away with the NIPBA title last season leading from the front throughout the season and they will be the team to beat this year.

Ballymoney could be their major challengers. While they have no new signings, some capable individuals will be available for Saturday play and will strengthen the side.

Portrush felt the loss of Jeremy Henry for the first part of last season so it will be a huge blow to the club that he has left these shores for Australia.

No one individual can replace Jeremy but if the team as a whole take more responsibility on the green then they could surprise and be challenging right to the end of the campaign.

Other possible contenders are Dunluce and Coleraine, both have quality individuals but the strength in depth and chemistry of the rinks could be their main drawbacks.

Arguably the league that produces the best quality on a regular basis is the NIPGBL.

Champions of the past three campaigns, Dunbarton, are no longer the stand-out team.

Belmont have recruited well during the off season with two top quality signings and another very dependable front end player being available after a one year sabbatical.

Ballymena will be the other serious contenders.

The Old Ballymoney Road men won the title in 2005 with a quality side then they nose-dived to fifth for two seasons before improving slightly to third.