There will be more than just money and points up for grabs this weekend as the Professional Bull Riders Australia Monster Energy Tour heads to sunny North Queensland for the 2018 Cairns Invitational. With the Sydney leg of the PBR Global Cup only one week away, it is the last chance for riders to qualify for the remaining two spots on the Team Australia roster which will be coached by 1998 PBR World Champion Troy Dunn.
Eleven of the current twelve Australian team members set to compete at the Cairns Convention Center on Saturday night with riders from the American and Mexican Global Cup teams also in the draw.
Jason Mara (Cloncurry, QLD) looks to be the front-runner to secure a position with a hungry group of young riders behind him who will be aiming for a good result to put themselves in the picture for the fourteenth and final spot.
Mara has recorded back to back event wins going 4-for-4 in 6 days to win the Mt Cotton Invitational and the Great Western Beef Australia PBR in Rockhampton at the start of May. Despite only competing in 9 events so far on the 2018 PBR Australia Season, Mara sits in 7th spot on the Australian National Standings, 2585.82 points adrift of current Australian number 1 Aaron Kleier (Clermont, QLD).
Kleier returns from injury after missing the Rockhampton event to resume his battle with the number 2 ranked Fraser Babbington (Gisborne, NZ). Babbington failed to capitalise on Kleier’s absence in the Beef Capital with a 2.40-second buck off courtesy of How Bout That (Dunne Bulls). Both front-runners look to have drawn tough bulls in Rounds 1 and 2 so it will be interesting to see how it all plays out. With a mere 292.49 points between them, it shapes as a crucial event for both cowboys with 400 points awarded to the winner of the event.
Lachlan Richardson (Gresford, NSW) returns to Australia after competing on PBR Canada’s Monster Energy Tour where he recorded a third-place finish in the Canadian Iron Cowboy a fortnight ago. I think Richardson will be hard to beat here in Cairns. The 25-year-old has drawn Bad Booger from Dittmann Bucking Bulls in Round 1. This bull has been ridden twice from five outs so far in the 2018 season. Fraser Babbington scored 86.50 points for the Round 1 win in Mackay and Kurt Shephard lasted the 8 seconds for 86.5 points and the Round 4 win at Iron Cowboy in Townsville. In Round 2, Richardson has drawn George Ayers’ Tick Tock, who has also been covered twice this year from three outs. Sonny Schafferius was 82.75 points at Iron Cowboy in Townsville with Cliff Richardson also getting a score on the bull at Julia Creek at the Dirt ‘n Dust Festival PBR in April.
Lachlan’s older brother, Cliff Richardson (Gresford, NSW) is another bull rider that heads into the Cairns Invitational in good form. Richardson has recorded qualified rides on 11 of his last 15 bulls and currently sits 3rd in the Australian National Standings. The 27-year-old has finished in the Top 5 at four of his last five events and will be looking to hold that form into the PBR Global Cup Sydney after being one of Team Australia’s best performers at the Inaugural PBR Global Cup in Canada last year.
Another Australian rider that has been riding at a high percentage is 2016 PBR Australia Champion Cody Heffernan (Singleton, NSW). Despite a disappointing month on the 25th PBR: Unleash the Beast tour in the USA where he went 0-for-7, the 28-year-old has covered 8 of his last 9 bulls on home soil, with his only buck off coming in Round 1 at the Great Western Beef Australia PBR in Rockhampton in a time of 7.55 seconds. That time was good enough to get Heffernan back for the Championship Round where he rode Iron Jacket (Wallace Bucking Bulls) for 87.50 points to finish 2nd in the event.
2017 PBR Australia Champion Troy Wilkinson (Upper Horton, NSW) also makes his return to Australia for the first time since December’s Adelaide Invitational where he went 1-for-3. Wilkinson rode 40% of his bulls on his way to his 2017 Championship and he looks to have drawn a nice bull in Round 2 from Dittmann Bucking Bulls called Silent Rage. This bull has been ridden twice so far in 2018 with Rohan Markham scoring 86.5 points in the Championship Round at Mackay and Bailey Woodard also going the distance for 85.0 points to finished 2nd in Round 1 at Iron Cowboy.
Nathan Burtenshaw (Coonamble, NSW) makes his return from a broken collarbone sustained in Round 2 at the Tacoma Invitational in April. Burtenshaw is the best placed Australian on the PBR World Standings in 27th place after covering 44.19% of his bulls for 2018. The 23-year-old will be hoping to regain the form that saw him finish in the points at his 4 of his last 5 events on the 25th PBR Unleash the Beast Tour in the USA.
Team USA member Matt Triplett heads down under a week early as he continues his return from Left Shoulder surgery. Triplett has previously ridden well in Australia going 7-for-11 in 2015 and 6-for-8 in 2017 which included winning performances in Tamworth and Newcastle. Despite only returning to competition in late April, the 26-year-old Montana native has already recorded three Top 10 finishes and moved to 63rd in the PBR World Standings.
Team Mexico will have two representatives riding in the event with Jorge Valdiviezo and Francisco Garcia Torres featuring on the Cairns Invitational Daysheet. Valdiviezo has been riding very well this year since returning from injury riding 46.67% of his bulls. After missing the Edmonton Global Cup with a shoulder injury, the 28-year-old recorded back to back runner-up finishes at Touring Pro Division events in Texarkana, AR and Stephenville, TX and produced a winning performance at the Touring Pro event in Perkins, OK to take his career tally to 11 victories. As I mentioned in my Meet the Team – Team Mexico, we dont know too much about Garcia but we will be watching the 21-year-old closely.
The Championship Round is stacked with some of Australia’s fiercest bucking bulls. Un Broken (Brandenburg Bucking Bulls) is unridden in 14 career outs with an outstanding average bull score of 44.52 points. Another bull to watch is Sweet Pro’s Fully Locked & Loaded who has recorded three bull scores over the magical 45 point mark so far this season, giving up only one qualified ride to Fraser Babbington for 89.50 points at Mackay. The high marked bull at the PBR event in Rockhampton a fortnight ago was Sweet Pro’s Palooka (Dittman Bucking Bulls) with Barn Yard (Fred Kleier) another up and coming bull with a perfect buck off percentage.