AT A glittering function at the indoor stadium of the mighty Warilla Bowls & Recreation Club last night, World Bowls president John Bell from England officially opened proceedings for this year’s World Cup singles championship.

With the action commencing on March 15 for nine days of continuous play, this 12th World Cup features men’s and women’s champions from twenty-one bowling countries competing for the ultimate prize.

Last year’s winners were Malaysian superstar Siti Zalina Ahmad and Iain McLean from Scotland, although, sadly, McLean was unable to make the trip downunder for his title defence, while the brilliant Malaysian policewoman is at the magnificent Australian coastal club in her quest for back-to-back titles.

World number one Jo Edwards from New Zealand and former Irish international Jeremy Henry, who these days represents Australia in this event, are again tipped to figure in the medal calculations.

The popular Kiwi has won her way into five consecutive finals between 2009 and 2013, claiming four and saluting to Guernsey great Alison Merrien in the 2012 decider, and is the best player in the world on any surface.

The much-decorated Henry, who doubles as bowls coordinator at Warilla, scored a hattrick of titles between 2012 and 2014, missed out last year, but by winning the 2015 Australian indoor singles crown, he has earned another shot at the much-vaunted World Cup.

Ironically, the only other multiple men’s champion is former world number one Leif Selby, is also employed as a professional coach at the host club.

Much interest will be focused on the sport’s newest superstar, Emma Saroji from Malaysia, who won the recent world singles champion of champions title at Helensvale on Queensland’s Gold Coast in fine style.

But whoever raises the imposing women’s championship cup after the final will have run a stellar gauntlet in their climb to the dizziest height – this year’s field is one of the strongest ever.

Along with Edwards and Saroji, the 18-strong women’s line-up features Norfolk Island’s Carmen Anderson, the 1996 world outdoor champion; Commonwealth Games gold medallist Colleen Piketh from South Africa; Australian indoor singles champion Carla Krizanic; and Hong Kong’s best player Dorothy Yu.

Big Jeremy Henry’s assault on a fourth title will be an equally difficult assignment with so many other well-pedigreed starters. However, none will be more formidable than Scotland’s Gavin Ansari, who is taking his first swipe at World Cup glory. Mind you, any competitor who cut their teeth on British indoor carpets must be reckoned with, so keep an eye out for Ireland’s Andrew Kyle as well.

But be assured, New Zealand’s Shannon McIlroy will not be far away when the trophies are being distributed. His recent form on the international scene has reinforced the belief that he is amongst the best, while the training and fitness regime he undertakes would send most professional athletes into a tailspin.

And let’s not forget one of the world’s premier players on all surfaces, Malaysia’s Fairul ‘Boy’ Muin. The mild-mannered southpaw is a genuine superstar with a bulging trophy cabinet for his achievements across all four corners of the world.

This year’s men’s field comprises; Ozkan Akar (Turkey), Ali Akbar (United Arab Emirates), Gavin Ansari (Scotland), Baven Balendra (Botswana), Pete Bonsor (Spain), Ryan Dixon (Norfolk Island), Kevin Fung (Hong Kong China), Jeremy Henry (Australia), Christian Huang (Singapore), Rudi Jacobs (South Africa), Jun Koyama (Japan), Andrew Kyle (Ireland), Su Hong Lam (Macau), Vincent Mai (Canada), Clive McGreal (Isle of Man), Shannon McIlroy (New Zealand), Hommer Mercado (Philippines), Scott Roberts (United States), Fairul Muin (Malaysia), Stan Tafatu (Niue), Samuela Tuikiligana (Fiji).

The women’s line up is; Siti Zalina Ahmad (Malaysia), Carmen Anderson OAM (Norfolk Island), Lisa Bonsor (Spain), Sonia Bruce (Philippines), Jo Edwards MNZM (New Zealand), Carla Krizanic (Australia), Sheral Mar (Fiji), Beng Hua Lee (Singapore), Midori Matsuoka (Japan), Stacey McDougall (Scotland), Bernice McGreal (Isle of Man), Joy Peuroux (Niue), Colleen Piketh (South Africa), Emma Saroji (Malaysia), Alexis van den Bos (United States), Pricilla Westlake (Canada), Dorothy Yu (Hong Kong China).

All matches are two-sets of nine ends, with three-end tiebreaks when necessary, and play is virtually continuous throughout the qualifying stanza. And best news yet – admission is free with an open-armed welcome extended to everyone – so come along and see the world’s best in action while enjoying Warilla’s renowned service, luxury and comfort.