As we near the fifth and penultimate ranking event of the season, we take a look at what the draw has meant for the entrants who make up the 24 groups in the 2016 English Masters.
The English Masters usually proves to be a pivotal event in the season and this year will be no different! First of all there is the 144-strong field competing for the prestigious SMPT title and then there is the Order of Merit as players look to make their move up the table in readiness for the season’s final event, the World Masters in April. Last, but by no means least, is the Race to the World Cup as the players jockey for position with their countrymen in their bid to qualify for the World Cup this summer!
What better place to start than with the defending champion and much decorated Welshman, Stephen Williams. Whilst he will meet an excellent opponent in England international Ben Pay, regardless of the outcome of their first session match, both should finish in the top two positions of Group 2 and qualify for the knockout stages of the Cup competition.
From the reigning champion we go to the World No. 1 Mark Beattie (Ireland). Should Mark maintain his incredible feat of making the Cup knockout in every SMPT ranking event he has entered, then he will finish the season at the top of the world rankings. Don’t be surprised if he racks up a record 4th SMPT title, but to do that he will need to fare well against two promising young English bowlers, Alex Kley and Thomas Perris, the latter making his SMPT debut.
Ireland’s Joe Beattie makes a welcome return in Group 20 after missing the last two events on the continent. Like Mark, he too holds three titles, but Joe knows how to win ‘mat on mat’ having previously won twice at Bromsgrove. However, he will be have a fight on his hands, with games against former World and British Isles Champion Lee Toleman (England), improving Swedish youngster Jonas Hager and Tony Bell (also of Ireland).
As in Group 20, Groups 21 and 22 witness World Champions past and present pitting their wits against each other. In Group 21, distinguished skips James Smith of England and Nick Evans of Wales will face reigning Irish Open Champion Dimitri Payne of Belgium in what promises to be an intriguing 3-way battle to make the Cup knockout stages. However, they will not take anything for granted as the three other competitors in this group are sure to play their part in determining the final standings. Group 22 sees England’s former World Pairs Champion James Trott take on current World Fours Champion Chris McWhinnie (Wales). If you then add seasoned internationals Luke Haddon (Wales) and Gareth Stanway (England) into the mix, the only certainty is that some top quality bowlers will have to settle for knockout action in the Plate…or even the Shield!
Last year’s runner-up, Englishman Paul Bax, returns hoping to go one better but his Group 23 rivals this time around include the celebrated Irish bowler and current World Pairs Champion Pauline Beattie. Alongside them is the drawing machine Joel Hager of Sweden. With two podium finishes at ranking events already this season, Joel comes to England looking to consolidate his spot as leader in the 2015-16 Order of Merit.
Interestingly Groups 7 and 9 both contain 2 SMPT winners. Group 7 comprises Robert Martin and Chris Mann (both England). In Group 9, former Irish Open Champion PJ McCrossan and Belgian Jonathan Payne will have their work cut to qualify knowing experienced Swede Tommy Dahlgren and Wales’ Tom Clough will both provide stern challenges.
Group 19 could well be one of the toughest to call! Welshman Sam Harvey, Irishman PJ Gallagher and Paul Pomeroy of England, who is enjoying a purple patch, are all sitting pretty in their respective World Cup qualification campaigns. That being said, England veteran Martin Simcock will fancy his chances of upsetting the form book!
As for the rest of the groups, there are many intriguing match-ups. In Group 3, maturing Belgian Sibe Laureys will face former English National Champion and SMPT debutant, Chris Grocott. Sweden’s Rosa Albrektsson and Jack Pye of England (both Group 4) will be pushing for vital ranking points in the Race to the World Cup. The same can be said for England ‘s Dom Reed and Jorgen Karlsson of Sweden from Group 8, and also for Gary Moore (Ireland) and Nigel Reed (England) in Group 15.
In Group 6 Bronagh Toleman will be favourite to qualify for the Cup and boost her ambition of reaching the top ten of the world rankings. Will Irishman Ryan Abraham or former World Champion Marc Lancaster (England) have enough in their lockers to dent her hopes?
Popular Swede Dick Almen will be aiming for his first ranking title. The current World Cup and 2-Bowl Masters Champion will face stiff opposition in Group 11 from Ireland’s Marty McNicholl. In Group 12, Arwel Morgan (Wales) will have to fight off the challenges from England pair Tony Main and John Manley, whilst in Group 14 Manx pair Jayne Smith and Stephen Gale will be vying for bragging rights before returning to the Isle of Man.
Group 16 welcomes newly crowned Swedish Masters champion Marcus Almen but Hampshire ace James Bucknall will be one of those looking to scupper his hopes of being the first player to win back to back SMPT titles.
As is the norm with the build-up to SMPT events, not only can you watch the filmed draw and view all the groups, you can also plot your path to the final!
Please take a moment to visit the dedicated pages on our website where you can see the Order of Merit and the World Rankings. In addition, you can see who’s in pole position in the Race to the World Cup and so much more!
Remember, when the show starts on the Saturday morning you can follow all the action as it happens with the SMPT’s unparalleled coverage via the live feed on our website, including photos and interviews with the players.
We look forward to you joining us for the 2016 Henselite English Masters!
*2016 Swedish Masters Champion Marcus Almen has withdrawn and been replaced in Group 16 by Benny Bass.
In an intriguing development which underlines the wider appeal of the SMPT, the 2015 World Indoor Bowls Council’s Junior Men’s Champion, Ryan Atkins, comes in to replace Danny Curl (Group 24).