World of Curt on greens

By Joe Wilkie

The word veteran does not get thrown around often when speaking about someone aged 19, but with more than a decade of experience already under Curtis Hanley’s belt, that title might fit.

The sport? Lawn bowls.

And the Katamatite resident’s eyes are firmly set on the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

Hanley first stepped onto a green with his grandfather and brother Cain aged six.

‘‘Pop playing bowls was definitely what got us into the sport,’’ he said.

‘‘He entered us into Tocumwal’s social barefoot bowls competition on Monday nights and we really enjoyed it.

‘‘It’s the sport that I really fell in love with and hopefully I can go further in it.’’

The Monday night event would soon become a ritual for the trio.

And he has not looked back since.

After realising his potential at Tocumwal, Hanley and his brother then joined the Murray Kraze; an under-18 development squad for promising young bowlers in the region.

It did not take long for the bigger sides to stand up and take notice.

Aged 12 and 14 at the time, the brothers took out the junior state title and Melbourne Premier League club Clayton immediately approached them.

‘‘We were pretty lucky, to be honest,’’ he said.

‘‘Originally we were hoping to move to the Bendigo or Shepparton competition, but after being asked to play straight in the premier division, we took that opportunity instead.’’

Like many teenagers with a passion for sport, Hanley played football and basketball as a junior.

However, his hunger for success on the greens shone through and he sacrificed the basketball court to focus solely on lawn bowls.

This did not come without its challenges.

Hanley recognises a major challenge being a teenager playing bowls is a widely held perception that it’s a sport for elderly people.

‘‘It is a hard thing to shake,’’ he said.

‘‘Obviously it’s a game that can accommodate for older people, and that’s great, but a lot of people don’t realise that there are more and more younger people getting magnetised to the sport.

‘‘We are trying to change the culture at an elite level.’’

Hanley said the sport’s growth at grassroots level among the younger generation was a credit to the social environment at clubs.

‘‘The game is very inclusive and anyone is invited to come along,’’ he said.

‘‘We take you on board and make sure everyone has an enjoyable time with people both your own age, and great people that are much older as well.’’

The social environment is not dissimilar to one you would see at a football or soccer club and Hanley said his lawn bowls teammates celebrated a win just as hard.

Representing Victoria, his side recently took out the Alley Shield in the national championships.

Likening the underdog win to that of 2016 AFL premier Western Bulldogs, the team’s players deserved to let their hair down.

‘‘I love playing with my mates, the people that play the sport and relish the team moments,’’ he said.

‘‘After the big win, we decided to switch the phones off to block ourselves from any contact and just have a few drinks and have a chat about the game.

‘‘We probably then got a bit carried away and partied pretty hard.’’

Many successful sportsmen will say that although individual accolades are great, the moments you get to share with a team are the most special, and Hanley is no different.

He recognises competing for Australia at the World Cup as a major achievement, but it was the early days at Tocumwal and Clayton that drove a passion for the sport and are the most memorable for him.

And none of it would be possible without his mother, Justine.

‘‘She’s my number one fan,’’ he said.

‘‘Pop started the drive for me to play bowls, but Mum still takes me everywhere, supports me from the sidelines and has really pushed me the whole way to succeed.’’

All that waits Hanley is to continue his good form at state and national level, in the hope of improving his game even further to be considered for the next Commonwealth Games.