One of the great virtues of bowls as a sport is its ability to involve, even playing at the highest levels, members of a family.
In North Harbour no family epitomises this quite so much or more vividly than the Nathans, from the Birkenhead club.
Usually, the family involvement is husband and wife, but in the case of the Nathans it’s one of Dad Peter, and two siblings, son Chad and daughter Millie.
All three are high fliers in the sport and each is a centre representative, Peter in the open representative sevens team, partnering club-mate Daymon Pierson, Millie in the four of the open women’s representative team, and Chad in the men’s one-to-five team.
Millie’s achievement is even more meritorious because she, too, is still eligible for the one-to-five representatives.
All three have achieved considerable success in the past few weeks, particularly Peter who early last month spearheaded Birkenhead to the North Harbour men’s sevens title, so qualifying for the national final in Wellington this month.
Peter stepped into the illustrious shoes of Black Jack Tony Grantham, who was away trialling for the New Zealand Commonwealth Games team, as Birkenhead’s singles specialist in the centre playoffs and did so with distinction.
He made light of the added pressure in what is bowls’ loneliest role by winning all three of his matches to anchor the overall Birkenhead victory, all of which were against accomplished players: Milford’s Charlie McDonald, Takapuna’s Brent Malcolm and finally Browns Bay’s Brian Wilson.
Not that Peter hasn’t excelled in singles in the past. In 2013-14 he won the centre singles title, a remarkable feat considering that no long before he had just survived major heart surgery. And while a junior at the now disbanded Glenfield club he was the centre’s one-to-five singles champion in 2007 and 2009.
Peter’s other open centre title was achieved with Millie when they won the centre mixed pairs in 2019 when Millie, still in her early 20s, was a second-year player and along the way they beat several top players, including Wendy Jensen, Elaine McClintock and Steve Cox.
At Anniversary weekend there was a repeat success for Millie and Chad at the Milford club’s 5000 tournament which caters for some of the country’s most promising players. With Birkenhead club-mate Gary Wallace they won this event for the second consecutive year, taking the first prize of $1500.
Other Birkenhead bowlers have excelled in recent weeks, notably club stalwart and life member Sandy Cleghorn in scoring an astonishing win in the North Harbour three-five tournament.
Cleghorn skipped Robbie Henson and second year player Maxe Janssen to come from behind wins in both the semi-finals and final to win the title and, like the club’s men’s sevens team, earn the right to travel to Wellington for the national play-off.
The irrepressible Sandy, despite his 78 years and unorthodox style, was the hero in each win. Adding to Birkenhead’s celebrations was the fact the 3-5 victory came at the expense of the club Birkenhead sees as its arch-rival, Takapuna.
In the semi-final Sandy, with his last bowl, cannoned into the head when Takapuna’s rival skip Robyne Walker appeared to have played the winning shot. Then in the final when the Garry Banks-skipped Takapuna trio, having all but won the game in the second set, appeared to have clinched the tie-breaker, only for Sandy, with his last bowl again, nudging what again had been a Takapuna winning shot.