While we wait for the official list of riders who have qualified for the 2018 PBR Australia Grand Finals to be released, I thought this would be a good opportunity to recap each of the top-18 riders 2018 seasons, plus a look at the International Invitees and possible alternates that we could see competing in Townsville this weekend.
I believe there will be 2500 points available over the 5 rounds and aggregate competition, which means four riders remain in contention for the Gold Buckle.
No. 1 – Aaron Kleier
Kleier enters the PBR Australia Grand Finals with a 776.82-point buffer to his nearest rival. The 20-year-old Clermont cowboy has put together an outstanding sophomore season, recording six wins and amassing just under $40,000 in prize money for the regular season. With an excellent riding percentage of 58%, he produced winning performances at both the 2017 and 2018 (Co-Champion) Newcastle Events and took home the buckle from Iron Cowboy Townsville with an outstanding 3-for-5 effort. Kleier’s high-marked ride of the season came at Wodonga where he put up 89.0 points on Hillbilly Deluxe. The 2017 Championship Runner-Up and Rookie of the Year has put himself in a solid position to go one better this year and to accomplish his goal of taking home the PBR Australian National Champion’s Gold Buckle.
No. 2 – Cliff Richardson
Richardson has campaigned at home and abroad in 2018 with three PBR Australia event wins to his name plus added the Tamworth Iron Cowboy Aggregate title to his record last weekend. The Gresford talent put together a solid winter run, recording wins at Last Cowboy Standing in Brisbane and the 2018 (Co-Champion) Newcastle Invitational to find himself in contention for a maiden Gold Buckle. Richardson added thirteen top-6 finishes courtesy of a solid 52% riding percentage with his high marked ride coming aboard Acid Rain in the Championship Round at Last Cowboy Standing for 88-points. The 27-year-old needs to make up 776.82 points on Kleier at the PBR Australia Grand Finals if he wants to finish the season as Champion.
No. 3 – Fraser Babbington
It has been an up and down year for the Kiwi who will begin the weekend 1254.99 points behind the standings leader. The 2015 PBR Australian National Champion took home event wins from the first three events he attended this season. He added 2018 Touring Pro wins in Marrabel and Cunnamulla plus a Monster Energy Series win in Bendigo where he placed first and second on dual entries. Babbington has put up some huge scores this season with four rides 89-points or better including a massive 90-point ride on Call Me Joe at Nowra. Despite the relatively slow end to the season, the 31-year-old’s riding percentage remains at an outstanding 56%.
Note: Babbington was 2-for-2 when he suffered a punctured lung this past weekend at Iron Cowboy but is probable for the Grand Finals. (via Social Media)
No. 4 – Cody Heffernan
After a slow start this 2018 campaign, the 2016 PBR Australian National Champion caught fire in the second half of the extended PBR Australia Season himself within striking distance of a second Gold Buckle. Heffernan trails Kleier by 1527.49 points after covering 12 of his 19 bulls since we resumed from the winter break in Newcastle. The 28-year-old took home Monster Energy event wins from Adelaide, Shepparton and Dubbo with a season riding percentage of 44%. Heffernan recorded two 89-point rides on his way to finishing first and second in Shepparton on dual entries, combining wit Call Me Joe and POA Ray Ban. The Singleton cowboy also put up another 89-point ride on Call Me Joe last month in Dubbo.
No. 5 – Jason Mara
It has been a career year for the 32-year-old veteran who used a near perfect 6-for-7 run through May and into June to find himself ranked fifth heading into the PBR Australia Grand Finals. Mara took home back-to-back-to-back event wins from Mount Cotton, Rockhampton and Cairns and added a further five top-8 finishes to his record from just 17 events. His high-marked ride came aboard Acid Rain in Mount Cotton for 89-points. The gap between Kleier and Mara is 3140.82-points.
No. 6 – Justin Paton
Paton took some time off in the second half of the season but returned this past weekend to be crowned 2018 Iron Cowboy in Tamworth. The 26-year-old was ultra-consistent through the first half of the season with ten top-5 finishes to his name from his fourteen starts before the end of April. The Nebo bull rider converted two of those finishes into buckles. Paton rode Call Me Joe for 89-points and the win in Wodonga with his second win coming a week later in Julia Creek. He trails Kleier by 3167.50-points.
No. 7 – Lucas Divino
The Brazilian kicked off his return down under this summer with a fourth-place finish in the Iron Cowboy aggregate. This follows his successful 2017 visit where he picked up two event wins and covered close to 60% of his bulls. Divino combined with Hillbilly Deluxe for a PBR Australia Season High 90.75 ride and the Tamworth Invitational win. The 24-year-old also added the Melbourne Invitational win with a perfect 3-for-3 performance.
No. 8 – Ryan Storey
In his farewell season, the Mackay cowboy put together back-to-back wins to find himself in position to record his best PBR Australia finish since 2007. Storey took out his hometown event in September courtesy of a career high 90.50-point ride aboard POA Fully Locked & Loaded. The 34-year-old also went a perfect 2-for-2 in Rockhampton to take home his ninth career PBR victory.
No. 9 – Budd Williamson
Williamson kicked off his 2018 season with a third-place finish in Newcastle and added a Touring Pro event win in Innisfail. The 32-year-old added runner-up finishes in Mount Cotton and Mackay. Despite battling injury for much of the second half of the season, the Ayr Veteran also added seven further top-15 finishes
No. 10 – Lachlan Richardson
Richardson faced 25 bulls in Australia this year and covered 13 of them. After recording a runner-up finish to start his 2018 season at the Townsville Iron Cowboy, the 26-year-old added four top-5 finishes though the Aussie Winter. The Gresford bull rider is the only man successful aboard King Kong this season, recording his high-marked ride on Australian soil in Townsville with 87.75 points awarded.
Note: Richardson will compete overseas this weekend in the Canadian National Finals where he will enter the weekend ranked No. 1.
No. 11 – Bailey Woodard
Woodard has had a successful season in his second year on tour breaking through for two wins this year. The 19-year-old took out the win in Rockhampton last New Year’s Eve and added a second buckle courtesy of a perfect 2-for-2 riding performance on night 1 in Mount Isa. Woodard was the only rider in PBR Australia competition to cover Bring The Action this PBR Australia season with 88.5 points awarded in Wodonga. The Dingo young-gun then repeated the dose with 87.0 points in Blackall.
No. 12 – Mitchel Paton
26-year-old Paton produced a perfect 3-for-3 winning performance at Blackall in September to record his third career victory in PBR competition. The Nebo bull rider also added third place finishes in Mount Isa, Cunnamulla and Mackay to once again find himself ranked inside the top-15 in the PBR Australia standings. Paton recorded twin season high-marked rides of 86-points aboard On Point and Broken Halo in Blackall.
No. 13 – Nathan Burtenshaw
Despite only attending 11 Australian events this season, the Coonamble cowboy finds himself ranked 13th entering the Grand Finals. The 24-year-old scored a win in Mount Isa on night 2 with a pair of 83-point rides. Burtenshaw also split second and third on a dual entry in Grafton plus added third place finishes at Cup level with 2-for-3 performances at the Cairns invitational and at Last Cowboy Standing in Brisbane.
No. 14 – Michael Smith
The Tully bull rider enters the Grand Finals leading PBR Australia’s Rookie of the Year race. Smith has placed in the top-10 at 12 events this season and ridden at a very respectable 30%. His best result would have to be his top-5 finishes at cup level in Tamworth, Melbourne and at Last Cowboy Standing in Brisbane. The 21-year-old also added a runner up finish in Rockhampton at the Touring Pro event on New Year’s Eve. His high-marked ride came aboard Coors Light in Tamworth for 88-points.
No. 15 – Braydon Wellby
We have not seen too much of Wellby in 2018 but when he does ride, he rides well. The Townsville talent heads to his second PBR Australia Finals thanks to top-6 finishes at Cup level at the end of 2017 in Newcastle, Tamworth, Melbourne. The 22-year-old also collected points at Rockhampton on New Year’s Eve and in Julia Creek. Perhaps his best finish this Season was at the 2018 Newcastle Invitational where he added another fourth-place finish.
No. 16 – Ethan Watts
26-year-old Watts has put plenty of kilometres into his 2018 campaign and had has been rewarded with his third PBR Australia Finals berth. Watts put together a 2-for-2 performance in Shepparton to finish fourth in the event for his best finish of the year. His 87.5-point ride on Stealth in that event was his highest scored ride of the year. The Tamworth cowboy has tallied 12 top-10 finishes this year.
No. 17 – Lachlan Slade
Slade is another cowboy who has travelled a lot in 2018. The Warwick cowboy competed in over 50 events worldwide this season. After placing third in Cunnamulla and scoring a win in Grafton to get his season started, the 24-year-old has added five more top-7 finishes to find himself qualified for his first PBR Australia Finals. His high marked Australian ride came aboard Big Bucks in Grafton for 87.5 points. He is currently second in the Rookie of the Year race, 170-points behind Michael Smith.
No. 18 – Kurt Shephard
After missing the majority of the 2018 season with an injury suffered while competing in the USA earlier this year, 24-year-old Shephard has made the most of his seven appearance at home to qualify for his fourth PBR Australia Finals. From those seven events, the Atherton bull rider has recorded 6 top-9 finishes. With a riding percentage of 33% worldwide, his high-marked in Australia came aboard Bad Booger in Townsville for 86.5 points.
No. 19 – Rohan Markham
Markham fell short of automatic qualification by just 58-points thanks to a strong start to the 2018 season. The 26-year-old finished runner-up in Mackay last year and added fourth place finishes in Adelaide and Tamworth to bolster his points balance. The Ravenshoe bull rider’s joint high-marked rides of 86.5-points came aboard Silent Rage and Buffalo Bill.
No. 20 – Sonny Schafferius
Schafferius has battle through an injury riddled 2018 campaign to fall 67-points short of automatic qualification. The Dysart cowboy finished runner-up in Melbourne last summer and added top-6 finishes in Mackay, Rockhampton, Cunnamull and Shepparton. The 29-year-old’s high marked ride came in the Melbourne Invitational Championship Round abord Light Em Up where he was 85.75-points.
No. 21 – Will Purcell
The 24-year-old Victorian competed in limited events in 2018 but hade his appearances count, with five top-12 finishes to his name. Purcell took home the buckle from Inverell where he put up 89-points on Crooked Nose in the short-go. He also recorded a runner up finish in Nowra and top-10 finishes in Newcastle and Wodonga.
No. 22 – Lane Mellers
The Mundubbera young-gun finished the year with podium finishes in Mount Isa and Rockhampton with another top-4 finish at Last Cowboy Standing in Brisbane. The 19-year-old also made the short-round at Iron Cowboy in Tamworth last weekend with his high-marked ride coming in Rockhampton where he combined with Kings Ransom for 85.5 points.
Rubens Barbosa (Goias, Brazil)
The veteran finished 2018 ranked 41st in the world and returns to Australia for his third cup season. Barbosa spent time on both the Unleash the Beast tour and the Velocity tour this year, finishing with a riding percentage of 31.82%. His produced winning performances in Rapid City on the Velocity tour and at the Touring Pro Division events in Thief River Falls and Shipshewana this year. The 35-year-old went 2-for-3 at Iron Cowboy in Tamworth last weekend.
Junio Quaresima (Sao Paulo, Brazil)
The 25-year-old Brazilian has spent much of the year competing in the USA on the PBR’s Velocity Tour, ending 2018 ranked 59th in the World Standings. Quaresima recorded a Velocity Tour win in Roanoke, Virginia and also took out the Brazilian Iron Cowboy Qualifying event. He finished third in the 2017 PBR Australia Iron Cowboy and backed that up with a sixth place finish in the 2018 edition Tamworth last weekend.