We have reached the last regular-season stop of the Monster Energy Tour there are a couple of storylines in full swing that I will focus in on in the 2020 Airlie Beach Invitational edition of The Morning Line.
After a couple of hectic months on tour, all riders will be feeling the pinch, but those involved in the race for the Gold Buckle and the race to qualify for next week’s 2020 PBR Australia Grand Finals need to keep pushing on, but it won’t be easy against this great set of bulls.
Event 1 – Round 1 Matchups
For the long round in the afternoon session, let’s look at the riders around the Grand Finals cut line and how they fared in the draw. After taking rider availability into account, the qualification limit is forecast to fall at position No. 26 on the PBR Australian National Standing. All riders south of the projected line are still a chance at making it into the Townsville field, with 48 points the current goal.
Budd Williamson on Random Assault (Dunne Bulls):
The 14-year PBR veteran is in danger of missing his first PBR Australia Finals since he returned from competing overseas in 2016. Williamson hasn’t been able to regain his best form since the resumption of competition, and he sits 40th in the standings. Here he will go up against Random Assault, who is yet to be ridden in his short career. His two outs in PBR Australia competition have ended at an average buck off time of 3.1 seconds. The bull will begin his trip to the left and into the Ayr cowboy’s hand which will allow Williamson to start strong, but he may reverse direction late.
Cody Heffernan on Berzerk (Brandenburg and MJ Bucking Bulls):
Heffernan looked excellent in his return from a long injury layoff last weekend in Toowoomba, going 1-for-3 against some stiff opposition. The Singleton bull rider sits in 27th place, and he has drawn one of the tougher bulls in the pen. Berzerk has been ridden just twice from 17 outs. This pair matched up way back in 2018 at the Brisbane Last Cowboy Standing with the bull winning in 4.22 seconds and recording a bull score of 42.75. The bull may have lost half a step since then, but he still delivers quality outs, and he will give the 2015 PBR Australian National Champion every chance by turning back into his right riding hand.
Rohan Markham on Tribal (Dunne Bulls):
Markham has had a very tough run of bulls since the resumption which has seen him slip out of a qualification spot to 28th. His task here does not look any more straightforward. Tribal is another undefeated bull, bucking off eight-straight riders with the clock stopping at an average of 3.44 seconds. This bull has mixed up his trips and can turn left or right after taking a jump or two to clear the chute. Only two riders have passed the 4-second mark, which could be a concern for the left-handed Ravenshoe talent.
Joseph Down on M60 (Dunne Bulls):
Down is the man on the bubble in 26th position, but he looks to be gaining momentum. The Warrnambool young-gun has picked up cheques at his last two appearances on tour after he went 1-for-2 at events in Beaudesert and Toowoomba. M60 was impressive on debut at Beaudesert where he dumped his opponent in 1.36 seconds and posted a 42-point bull score. On that occasion, the bull turned back to the right, and if that is the case again, he will be into Down’s right hand.
Lachlan Slade on Crocodile Rock (Dunne Bulls):
Slade is holding down the No. 22 spot, but if a few of the riders on the outside catch fire, he could find himself in danger of missing qualification. The Warwick cowboy went 1-for-3 last weekend at Toowoomba to pick up some valuable points towards the standings. I think he has drawn well here in the afternoon long round. Crocodile Rock has been ridden just the once from six PBR Australia trips, and that was for 80-points by Bailey Woodard at Rockhampton. History says that he will turn back to the right and into Slade’s hand from the right delivery.
Brody Woodard on Super Natural (Wallace Bucking Bulls):
The Dingo young-gun is also inside the cut line, ranked 25th heading into this weekend. Woodard has drawn Super Natural here in the opening round, and he is a great draw for any rider. He gets covered around 50% of the time and gives all riders a chance to make time with his honest tempo. Five of the last six right-handed riders to climb aboard this bull have ridden time for an average score of 84.55 points. That bodes well for Woodard, who can expect the bull to turn back into his riding hand and deliver an honest trip.
Event 2 – Round 1 Matchups
The evening session day sheet features a lot of bulls that have built up brilliant average bull scores, and we should see most of them buck in Townsville next weekend. So, it shapes as an excellent opportunity for the top contenders to check their form against quality opposition, and perhaps a chance to build some extra confidence.
Lachlan Richardson on Flyin Hippie (Wallace Bucking Bulls):
Last weekend we saw the No. 1 ranked rider in the country go 0-for-2 for the first time in a multi-round tour stop since Queanbeyan last season. Richardson’s ability to bounce back quickly from a ‘no score’ has been a highlight of his last 12 months on tour, so I don’t expect him to stay down for long. Here he goes up against Flyin Hippie, who has bucked off four straight riders since Aaron Kleier rode him for 89-points on debut in Bundaberg. We expect the bull to spin to the left and away from the Gresford cowboy’s hand. Richardson has been handling them both ways at 63.16% over the last two months of competition, so it is hard to bet against him.
Sam Woodall on Iron Jacket (Wallace Bucking Bulls):
Woodall and Iron Jacket did battle last month in Rockhampton where the Heywood talent picked up his maiden PBR Australia event win. They were marked 86-points on that occasion with the bull turning back to the left and away from the No. 5 ranked rider’s hand. That is the bull’s preferred trip, and he gives all riders a fair chance as he bucks with excellent timing. Over 50% of his opponents have received a score with the average mark over 85-points. Woodall has bucked off his last four bulls at Beaudesert and Toowoomba, but his confidence will be high heading into this matchup with their previous bout fresh in his mind.
Lane Mellers on Freckles Brown (Wallace Bucking Bulls):
Mellers has quietly crept his way up into the No. 6 spot in the standings with a handful of good results. The Mundubbera bull rider has drawn Freckles Brown, which will also be a rematch from an event last month. Mellers started strong away from his hand and finished it off to the right for 83-points in the Championship Round on that occasion to score his first PBR event win on home soil. The bull has given up three scores in his past four trips with the average mark coming in at 83.33 points. If Mellers can remain in good shape until the bull turns reverses back to the right and into his hand, I see no reason why he can’t be there at the bell.
Aaron Kleier on Bucksnort (Wallace Bucking Bulls):
The Clermont bull rider made up massive ground in the standings last weekend in Toowoomba as he goes full bore towards a third-straight PBR Australian National Championship. The margin between the No. 2 ranked Kleier, and No. 1 Richardson is just 26.5 points entering the weekend. Bucksnort will be the opponent for Kleier during the evening long round. This bull has been ridden only once from eight performances but the average buck off time is past the halfway mark of the ride. He has mostly been to the left from the right chutes, but occasionally he may look that way and turn back to the right. Either way, Kleier looks in excellent form, and this should be a confidence-boosting matchup.
Jake Curr on Hair Trigger (Brandenburg Bulls):
Curr rode well in the first Toowoomba event last weekend, but he copped a knock in the Championship Round and opted to sit out the second event. It didn’t appear to be anything serious and I think that was a good decision which should benefit him going into the fortnight of the season. Here he has drawn Hari Trigger who has won all four of his PBR Australia matchups with an average buck off time of around 2.5 seconds and bull score of 41-points. This bull will turn back to the left and into the Mount Isa rookie’s riding hand. The No. 3 ranked Curr will be by far the highest rating rider he has faced. This should be a great matchup.
Brady Fielder on Silent Rage (Dittmann Bucking Bulls):
This will be an intriguing matchup for Fielder facing Silent Rage, who returns to PBR Australia competition after a nice long break in the paddock. He is a veteran bull who has over forty trips to his name averaging a bull score of 42.23 points, and there have been eight riders last the distance. Fielder hasn’t been able to string back to back rides together since the restart, but one senses that the Clermont talent isn’t too far away from going on a run. The No. 7 ranked cowboy has been covering some good bulls away from his hand, and that is the skill set required here with Silent Rage regularly turning back to the left.
Kurt Shephard on Ranga (Dittmann Bucking Bulls):
Shephard is really starting to heat up as November progresses, but he has let the odd bull get away from him that we would normally expect him to cover. Ranga looks an excellent draw for the Mareeba left-hander. After starting his career with four straight buck offs, the bull was ridden at Mackay by Ty Thomson for 82 points. He has been making the turn back to the left and bucking at a nice tempo. Shephard has covered three of his last four bulls and has moved up into the No. 4 position on the leaderboard and remains a chance to get himself into the Gold Buckle conversation with a strong tour stop this weekend.