Thirty avid billiards players descended on Blacktown Worker's Club last weekend to play in the Main Event- the State Major Billiards Championship.
Although there have been a number of additional events added in NSW in recent years this is still the one most prized by the players. With a history dating back over a hundred years this tournament is the pinnacle in NSW for aspiring 3 ball players, but its a long way to the summit and getting increasingly crowded along that narrow pathway.
Billiards events are always played with a round robin group stage, even up to world championship level and with 30 players that made 75 matches to be scheduled in a day, each player appearing 5 times in shortened fifty minute matches. No surprise that quite a few of our intrepid mountaineers needed oxygen by late afternoon. With shorter matches one slip on the ice can be fatal and so it proved for many with quite a few notable upsets and thus a number of first time appearances in the last 16 of a Major title. Some excellent performances from Muz El-Omari, Dirk Hellenbroich, Percy Crow, saw them make it to Base Camp ( being asked to return on Sunday for the knock-out stage).
In the longer format knock-out matches it was the experienced players who shone through with some crushing victories recorded in the last 16 as the younger aspirants were reminded that Billiards is a 20 years apprenticeship.
The final 8 were thus reasonably predictable with the fast improving Mick Boyne and Adwin Teh featuring with perennial quarter finalists Vittorio Sacco, George Chammas, Ron Tulloch and Roger Farebrother. Messrs Boyne and Teh though had the problem of overcoming Michael Pearson and Joe Minici respectively, something no quarter finalist has done since John Howard was Prime Minister. Adwin showed his class recording an elegant 107 break against Joe but even that resistance was futile as he was over 200 behind at the time.
The most drama filled quarter final was between George Chammas and Roger Farebrother which saw the scores level at 284 when the buzzer sounded. George had missed a standard cross loser to leave his ball in the jaws and Roger had cue laid on the rest and was on the backswing as the buzzer sounded. An extra ten minutes saw Roger maintain his famous composure to run out the winner.
No one kicks themselves harder than George and so he was sent home to Phoebe with a note asking her to remove sharp objects from his presence.
Ron Tulloch overcame the evergreen Vit Sacco who makes 78 look like 48 with his elegant floating game which is much admired by anyone who really understands billiards, but the Rocket was alight with a string of breaks that kept Vit in his seat. Ron is one of the most feared players in the game, capable of bouts of focus and flamboyant shot making as good as anyone, but prone to occasional self doubt. This weekend he proved that he deserves to be in the top handful of players in the state. Make no mistake, the Rocket is back.
So there were four Minici vs Tulloch and Pearson vs Farebrother. Joe and Michael have met in the final in 14 of the last 15 years, so was 2019 going to be the year to upset that pattern? ..... No.
They are a clear class above the rest of the field, genuine world class players who can mix it with the best on the planet, both have been national finalists ( Joe having won a few before the dominance of Matt Bolton), both are NSW Hall of Fame members, both are winners of world ranking events and both fully expected to meet the other in the final. No names but theirs appear on the Bill Hart Trophy instituted 10 years ago.
No one knows if Edmund Hilary or the Sherpa Tenzing Norgay placed the first foot atop Mt Everest, both took that secret to the grave we just know that two men stood astride the summit and so it is in NSW Billiards.
The contrast in styles is striking, Mike is all business, calculating the odds on every shot and playing with precision and control. Joe is a natural entertainer, often just entertaining himself by taking on high risk/high reward shots, sometimes bantering with the crowd and sometimes commentating his own game, complete with footnotes ... "Lindrum, the Green book , page 46".
But this year was different. Joe had a resolve and determination we have not seen in a few years now. Perhaps he hears Michael's footsteps catching up to his seemingly unassailable 13 titles in this event. History is important to Joe.
Gone was the banter with the crowd, gone were the outrageous attempts...ok there was a single lapse, a super thin one handed in-off in the middle but only when the match looked secure.
Final result Joe Minici claimed his 14th title in this event over Michael Pearson 584 to 381.
The standard of play continues to improve in NSW Billiards as do our numbers, more people are joining the ranks and learning the beauty and grace of having a table with only 3 balls on it and having to create something with not much to aim at.
Many thanks to the Blacktown Worker's Club, simply the best hosts in tournament cue sports in NSW. Their local club members brushed and padded every table, lugged more water than Gunga Din and continually worked hard to make all the players feel welcome and appreciated. Their President David Battensby is a major asset to cue sports in NSW and next year we are naming the High Break Prize for him and his team.
*Photos courtesy Steve Fabian