Lisa Douglas and Jal Richardson return to Bromsgrove IBC to defend their Short Mat Players Tour World Fours title on Saturday.
The Armagh duo teamed up with Andrew and William Morrison last season to become the inaugural winners of the championship.
The Morrison brothers are not involved this time, so Douglas and Richardson are joined by Marty Trainor and Gary Culbert. There is a capacity of 32 teams on the staring grid with an £800 top prize up for grabs.
Douglas, Culbert, Richardson and Trainor have been drawn in Group Eight along with the English rinks skipped by Marc Bourne and Stephen Wilson, along with the Andrew Jones’ Welsh side.
In fact, should Jones go on and lift the trophy, he would create a little bit of short mat history by becoming the first player to concurrently hold World, National, British and SMPT titles.
Ireland will also be represented in the tournament by James Newell, Stephen O’Neill, Paul Canning and Robin Beattie. They have also been pitched in with three strong English combinations, skipped by Lee Toleman, James Smith and Robert Martin.
“It really is too tough to call in terms of predicting a winning rink,” said SMPT organiser Phil Mills. “I’m sure the current holders will not want to give up the title easily, even though Lisa and Jal will have two new members to the side. There are a lot of quality rinks involved.”
The Irish contingent will then feature in the World Pairs on Sunday, with England duo James Smith and Mike Ivings defending their title.
Richardson is also a former winner in this discipline, having lifted the crown in the inaugural year back in 2013, along with William Morrison.
He once again teams up with Douglas and they will feature in Group Nine along with Jake Attrill, Julian Kellet and multiple SMPT world champion Simon Pridham.
Beattie and Canning were pulled out in Group Eight and they will face stiff opposition in the form of England internationals Mitchell Young, Tony Main and Kev Siddle.
O’Neill and Newell are due to operate in Group Seven against the holders, Smith and Ivings, along with the combinations skipped by Richard Rose and Ryan Kerr.
Culbert and Trainor have been in group Section 15 along with Sandy MacDonald, Bridget Hallowes, Mark Weaver
Meanwhile, Donegal begin the defence of their IIBA Women’s Inter-zone title when they travel to Ardaghey to face Monaghan on Saturday.
They defied all the odds last February to rack up a famous victory over Armagh at Killyclougher to lift the McElroy Cup for only the second time.
In fact, when Donegal enjoyed their maiden success back in 2012, Armagh were also their victims in the decider.
The title holders were certainly be fancied to progress which would earn them home advantage over Oriel next month.
“We’ll take one game at a time,” said zone convenor Fred Aicken. “The team did fantastically well to win the title lat season. They were given little chance.
“But their rose to the challenge against a really good Armagh team packed with the experience of many international players.
“The pressure was all on Armagh as they were hot favourites, so perhaps that had an affect on them. But we must now do it all again. We’ll be looking for a good performance at Monaghan and hopefully that will lay the foundation for another good cup run.
“It will not be easy. Monaghan have been making steady improvement over the past few years. They lost narrowly Western in the quarter final.
“We then required a last bowl winner against Western to reach the final, so that tells us we will need to be at our best.”
IIBA Women’s Inter-zone Championship, second round: Western v North Eastern; West Down v South Tyrone; Monaghan v Donegal; Cork v Foyle; Lisburn v North West; Mid Ulster v Mid Tyrone; Armagh v Mid Antrim.
Entries are now invited for the Ballybrakes Community Indoor Bowls Club’s Annual
Short Mat Christmas tournament. It will get under way on Monday, December 28 and run until Friday, January 1, with finals night on Saturday, January 2.
Entries can be forwarded to Donna McCloy, 48 Millbrooke Manor, Ballymoney. Alternatively Donna can be contacted on 07764 469006, or by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or to our Ballybrakes CIBC Facebook page.
Singles £4: Monday (28th) evening; Tuesday (29th) evening; Friday (1st) afternoon. Pairs £6: Monday (28th) afternoon; Wednesday (30th) evening; Friday(st) January evening. Entries close Friday, December 18.
“We had a record number of entries last year and hopefully we can exceed that this year,” said Donna.