Veteran eyes big prize

A “FAIRYTALE” run of form in 1998 saw the name Neville Brown immortalised as the inaugural winner of the Yallourn Classic.

Fifteen years later the former Drouin bowler is hoping to follow that same storyline in this year’s edition of the region’s premier tournament.

Now director of coaching at Heathmont Bowling Club, Brown said playing in Yallourn was always a special homecoming, as was seeing his name at the top of the honour board every year.

“The adrenaline you get from winning something like that and getting your name put on the honour board has a lasting effect, because with honour board events your name is never removed,” he said.

“You can go back years later and you can show the kids or the grandkids… it always holds something very dear and winning the first one always is something special because you know you were the first to achieve something that no-one else did.

“Past winners are always given that little bit of extra accolade at the event so it’s always a nice feeling to be acknowledged.”

The 53 year-old has played every edition of the tournament since its inception, but still recalls the maiden Classic with poignant clarity.

Brown defeated Queensland legend Don Peoples, who had been flown down for the event, and rode that momentum throughout, blitzing all comers.

“He was a bit of a legend of the sport and I managed to beat him quite comfortably,” Brown said of his clash with Peoples.

“It was a tournament where I just got on a roll… It was sort of like a fairytale tournament for me that year because nobody scored more than 18 out of 25 (against me).”

Brown’s best finish since winning the event was runner-up to four-time champion Barrie Lester in 2010, after defeating then world number one Safuan Said of Malaysia in the semis, and he feels he has the form to be competitive this year.

The champion bowler has been on song in recent times, winning the $20,000 Cobram Barooga pairs and $15,000 Numurkah golden pairs in the past year.

Singles competition, however, provides a challenge of a different kind, according to the tournament veteran.

“With singles there’s no-one but yourself (unlike) a team sport, so probably the hardest way to test yourself is in a singles competition because at any stage through a match you’ll go through flat spots or down spots,” he said.

“It’s a matter of grinding out a lot of times; you go through a lot of different emotional rollercoasters along the way.”

Brown is the only former winner in the field and said the Yallourn tournament is one of the highlights on the annual bowls calendar.

“The concept of the tournament has always been good; the way it’s been organised and they way they’ve always paid some prize money throughout the rounds,” he said.

“A tournament like this goes up there with a lot of other big tournaments because of the quality of the field.

“It’s probably in my six top tournaments for the year; I always earmark this tournament to play in.”

Having seen the Classic grow exponentially over the years, Brown said the biggest change has been in the strength of the Classic’s reputation.

“Where initially it probably relied upon flying high credentialed Australian players into the tournament to give it a bit of extra publicity and quality… it now stands on its own two feet with the quality of bowlers just within Victoria that come to it,” he said.

“It has evolved into something that a lot of bowlers aim at.

“Yallourn Bowling Club run as good a tournament as what you’ll find around.”