Shearer Rowland Smith of Northland has emerged as top qualifier from the open heats at the New Zealand shearing and wool handling championships underway at Te Kuiti.
He's regarded as one of the leading prospects for the event after coming second in last month's Golden Shears final behind John Kirkpatrick, who's the favourite to win this weekend's open title.
Kirkpatrick won the South Island trophy in Gore earlier this year.
But David Fagan of King Country, is also among the qualifiers and can't be written out of contention, especially competing in his home patch.
Competition in the open wool-handling is also strong, with last year's winner Joel Henare, having to defend his title against Golden Shears winner Joanne Kumeroa, and the top-ranked competitor, Keren Herbert.
Te Kuiti will mark the championships with the annual 'running of the sheep' through the town centre on Saturday.