Former World and Golden Shears champion Cam Ferguson gave possibly the strongest sign of being back in the race for another title after he won the Hilux Rural Games New Zealand Speedshear Championship in Palmerston North.
While speed-shearing for the fastest time over one or two sheep is a big step away from winning a 20-sheep show title, commentators said the 35-year-old showed characteristic tenacity and grit to post the fastest single-sheep time in three of the four preliminary rounds as the invited field was cut from 10 to two for the final.
Up against Southland shearer Brett Roberts in the final, the Waipawa shearer shore two sheep in 42.82 seconds.
It's been a season of at least six speedshear wins for Ferguson, who took a couple of years off serious competition shearing to go solo-daddying, and at the end of this month now targets the New Zealand Shears in Te Kuiti and second of the two national team machine shearing places at this year's world shearing and woolhandling championships in France.
"It's the number one priority," said Mr Ferguson who has had more than 40 wins in the traditional and longer form competition of Golden Shears and other show finals.
But the winner of the 2010 Golden Shears Open and World tites has not had a show win in just over two years, since the Mayfield A&P Show in Canterbury in March 2017.
He said he thought he could have 'done it' in the Golden Shears in Masterton on March 2, but a single mistake saw him eliminated in the semi-final of the big championship, which was won by near-unbeatable fellow Hawke's Bay shearer Rowland Smith.
He did at Masterton still go within a whisker of the 15-sheep national circuit title, won by speedshear regular Paerata Abraham of Masterton, who was eliminated in the second round of the Rural Games competition.
Among the vanquished today was Rowland Smith, a former winner but rare speedshears competitor who was eliminated in the third round as the field was trimmed from six to a semi-final four.
Cam Ferguson shore 18.78sec in the first round, two seconds clear of next-best and defending champion Jimmy Samuels, of Marton and who was the only one of the 10 who has not won an Open-class show final.
Eliminated at that stage were Southland shearers Ringakaha Paewai and Casey Bailey, who had both flown from Christchurch to Palmerston North after competing the previous day at the Mayfield A&P Show in Canterbury, where Bailey had his first Open-class show in New Zealand.
Veteran Te Kuiti shearer Digger Balme posted the fastest second round time of 18.68sec, and Ferguson lowered the day's quickest time to 18.16sec at the next stage and the day's best of 17.92sec in the semi-final.
Senior shearer Laura Bradley, of Woodville, shore two sheep in 1min 8.12sec, for a 2.14sec win over Smith's wife, former Intermediate competitions winner and World women's record holder Ingrid (nee Baynes) in the games' first women's speedshear match.