The fifth and final round of the STIHL Timbersports Australian Championship in Bathurst, New South Wales produced unexpected twists and turns, and a nail-biting finish.
The crowd packed in as Australia's top lumberjacks went head-to-head, the roar of the Hot Saws overpowering the thrum of the V8 Supercars. Everyone was watching series leader Laurence O'Toole closely, the Victorian needing a top-two finish to win the Championship.
First on the schedule, the always-entertaining Springboard threw up some surprising results, with Jamie Head (QLD) taking out the discipline for the first time this year in 48.48 seconds. Head led Brayden Meyer (VIC) from the gun, taking the heat by just under three seconds. It was a promising sign for the Queenslander, who was competing with his right forearm in bandages after cutting it on a saw chain pre-competition. Tree-climb specialist Matt Gurr (TAS) was thrilled to finish second in 50.48 seconds, revealing his game plan to snare the last remaining ticket to the STIHL Timbersports World Championships revolved around top placings in the early disciplines. After winning the Springboard at Ipswich and Sandown, O'Toole was sluggish in 60.02 seconds to come sixth. Brodie Dingle (QLD) had a start he would rather forget, finishing last after wasting time fixing a too-shallow second board hole.
From the high of first-up success, Head dipped to the low of last-place in the Stocksaw. Controversy swirled as the 30-year-old cut a third cookie after mistakenly believing his second cookie was incomplete. Meyer swooped into the round five lead with a run of 14.03 seconds, with Mitch Argent (QLD) a close second on 14.07 seconds. Gurr and Dingle were in a photo finish for fifth and sixth, with the judges putting the Queenslander ahead by just 0.05 seconds.
In the Standing Block, Head breathed new life into his Championship chances. The 30-year-old went head-to-head with home-town hero Brad De Losa, winning the heat and the discipline by half a second from the big New South Welshman. Argent was third in 21.13 seconds, emerging as the dark horse for Bathurst. O'Toole was disappointed with his 21.19 seconds for fourth, a slip on a woodchip during the turn costing him valuable time. Off-stage, several athletes commented on the firmness of the wood, which was resulting in slower times overall.
At the half-way mark, Argent held the lead for the round with Head, De Losa and Meyer within two points of him.
After 3 of 6 disciplines the VW Amarok Round 5 Leaderboard:
1. Mitch Argent 18
2. Jamie Head 17
3. Brad De Losa 16
4. Brayden Meyer 16
5. Laurence O'Toole 14
6. Matt Gurr 11
7. Kody Steers 8
8. Brodie Dingle 8
VW Amarok Championship Ladder after 3 of 6 disciplines:
1. Brad De Losa 32
2. Laurence O'Toole 32
3. Jamie Head 32
4. Brayden Meyer 30
5. Mitch Argent 17
6. Matt Gurr 13
7. Kody Steers 12
8. Brodie Dingle 12
If the Round 5 ladder stayed the same the championship was going to be decided by a 3 way Stocksaw off, but with 3 disciplines remaining there were plenty of points still up for grabs.
The misery-whip of the Singlebuck heralded the second half of competition, and the tension started to rise. O'Toole's struggle for form had given the top four a glimmer of hope of claiming the Championship, while Argent was looking increasingly likely to be anointed the fifth Chopperoo. Fitness fanatic De Losa had a comfortable win in his heat against O'Toole, his 18.70 seconds the fastest for the day. Head was second after the gamble of using a borrowed saw paid off. Despite battling the flu, Kody Steers (TAS) looked strong in his heat against Dingle. He came undone, however, when he snapped the cookie off which slowed him significantly as he had to return the saw to the block to finish off his cut
Eyeing a podium finish, Meyer took on the Underhand with relish. The world record holder is considered almost unbeatable in this discipline and his artful display in Bathurst showed why. He and heat-mate O'Toole turned together before Meyer went up a gear to finish in 20.43 seconds, almost four seconds ahead of his fellow Victorian. Meyer told Timbersports' correspondents that he had never before used the axe he won with - he borrowed it from Argent just moments before taking the stage. It proved a lucky axe, with Argent using it to finish second in 21.30 seconds. Gurr earned the nickname ‘twinkle toes' for his quick recovery when he slipped off his log during his heat against Dingle.
With the Hot Saw to come, De Losa had topped the leaderboard and the VW Amarok Championship standings.
VW Amarok Round 5 ladder after 5 of 6 disciplines:
1. Brad De Losa 29
2. Brayden Meyer 28
3. Mitch Argent 27
4. Jamie Head 26
5. Laurence O'Toole 21
6. Matt Gurr 19
7. Kody Steers 15
8. Brodie Dingle 15
VW Amarok Championship ladder after 5 of 6 disciplines:
1. Brad De Losa 34
2. Laurence O'Toole 32
Brayden Meyer 32
4. Jamie Head 30
5. Mitch Argent 15
6. Matt Gurr 13
7. Brodie Dingle 12
Kody Steers 12
It was the battle of STIHL supplied Hot Saws in heat one as Dingle took on Steers, and it brought more heartbreak for the Queenslander. Dingle was fastest, but cut over the line for a DQ and last place. Argent was fourth in 9.34 seconds and finished with a grin, the result earning him the fifth and final spot on the Chopperoos team to compete in Stuttgart, Germany in November. Next up was O'Toole versus Head, with their fathers standing side-by-side in the crowd. It was a case of too little too late for O'Toole, whose 7.23 seconds was the top time. Pre-competition Head's saw, known as ‘Black Betty', required a last-minute patch-up. The quick-fix let him down, with Head managing a time of 12.62 seconds. It was Meyer and De Losa in the last heat of the day, the Victorian finishing second in 7.89 seconds with De Losa third.
As the judges looked to the scoreboard, the stadium went quiet. At the end of competition, De Losa and Meyer were tied for the round on 35 points. Until the pair had been separated, no winner could be declared for the day or the series.
This forced a sudden death Stocksaw shootout. The rules were: one saw, one piece of wood, two cuts with new chain for each competitor. If De Losa won, he would be Australian Champion. If Meyer finished on top, it would come down to a three-way Stocksaw shootout between Meyer, De Losa and O'Toole for the Championship.
De Losa took the stage first knowing Meyer was in formidable form, having finished 0.35 seconds ahead in the discipline earlier in the day. To the delight of the crowd De Losa was clinical as he finished in 14.33 seconds. 17 years the junior, Meyer had a steady hand as he cut his cookies. But under pressure, the young Victorian could only manage 14.71 seconds, handing De Losa the round win and the STIHL Timbersports Australian Championship. An emotional De Losa rushed to his family in the crowd, the victory even sweeter after missing out on last year's Championship by one point.
As the STIHL Timbersports Australian Championship winner, De Losa has gained automatic selection as the individual representative at the 2016 STIHL Timbersports World Championship in Stuttgart, Germany on November 10-11. He is also part of the Chopperoos team aiming to claim a third-straight world title, with Meyer, Laurence O'Toole (VIC), Jamie Head (QLD) and Mitch Argent (QLD).
Behind De Losa, O'Toole, and Meyer rounded out the top three on the VW Amarok Championship ladder, the trio automatically qualifying for the 2017 STIHL Timbersports Australian Championship.
The remaining five will have to go through the 2017 Pro Tour Qualifying round, at Homebush, NSW in December against all the State Champions.