FOR Lee Schraner, his love of lawn bowls began as a 12-year-old at a come and try day at Mount Cottrell Bowls Club.
“It was the first Sunday in December of 1994… mum got a flyer to an open day at Mount Cottrell and I went along, had a bowl and absolutely loved it,” Schraner recalled this week.
“The old fella at the club who owned the newsagency paid for my membership, I went to the op shop and got some whites and played pennant next week.”
And so began Schraner’s affinity with lawn bowls that in 2018 sees him Australia’s No.1 ranked men’s bowler and now coaching Bendigo East in the Bendigo Bowls Division.
Which is why Schraner’s signing at the Beasties in April created such a massive buzz in the Bendigo bowls fraternity given the high profile in which he has built in the sport.
Not that Schraner is fazed by any of the hype that has followed his arrival in the competition, nor is he concerned by pressure to live up to his reputation given on a Saturday in pennant he’s only one of four in a rink.
“You’d think there might be that pressure, but I don’t focus on the result, I focus on the process,” Schraner said.
“If you’re focused on winning from the first end then you’re going to forget what you need to do over the 25 ends… sometimes you play someone who is just too good, sometimes you have an ordinary day, other times you can have a blinder and still get beat.
“But it’s a team game; there’s four people in a rink, 16 in a side, it’s not a one-man show.”
Schraner grew up in Melton and his initial intention this season was to play at Deer Park.
But that plan fell through and two days later he was signed and sealed as the new coach at Bendigo East to play alongside one of his good mates in Brad Marron.
“It all happened very quickly… the contract was drawn up and signed just like that,” Schraner said.
“I had been to the club a few times to play in the state finals, I played in their under-35 pairs a few times and realised that it was a big, powerful club that had probably gone a bit backwards over the past couple of years.
“So it was all about reinforcing what had been there before and getting everyone happy again… a winning club is a happy club and I see this as a new challenge.
“There’s a lot of implied pressure this year that we’ve recruited well and we’re expected to be up there, but it comes back to blocking out the result and just focusing on the process.”
Bendigo East adds to a long list of clubs that Schraner has played at since he first brought his op shop whites at Mount Cottrell.
The 36-year-old jokes he has had more clubs than Tiger Woods – Mount Cottrell, Footscray Park, Altona, where he won a flag in 2001, Bundoora, Karingal (coach), Brighton (coach) and Rosny Park (coach) in Tasmania.
“There has always been a reason for moving on. I’ve never left a club with sour grapes, it’s always been for a new challenge or a new experience or a lifestyle change,” Schraner said.
“Before I started playing I had watched the game on TV, knew what it was about and it interested me for the fact that every end is different.
“My first year at Mount Cottrell was pretty good, but then I had those second and third year blues and I went backwards a bit.
“I was a slow developer and probably 18 or 19 before I started to play top grade bowls regularly.”
Two decades on the game is still providing fresh challenges that keep Schraner invigorated.
“I don’t think bowls is a game where everything totally clicks. If you think it has clicked then the game has got the better of you,” Schraner.
“It’s a game that keeps you on your toes and one that you should never take for granted.”
It’s a significant commitment Schraner has made to coach Bendigo East given he is doing so while living in Tasmania, which means plenty of time spent in airports and in the air travelling across the Tasman.
“I fly over from Tassie on a Wednesday night or Thursday morning. I coach the ladies on a Thursday morning, have some lunch and a rest, then coach the men on the Thursday afternoon,” Schraner said.
“I then have team training on the Thursday night, run the bistro on the Friday night, play on a Saturday and then I’m off again on Sunday to Hobart.”
Friday nights at Bendigo East this season have been taken over by “Leeroy’s Bistro” and it’s proving a hit.
“It’s three courses for $20. We’re averaging 100 people on a Friday night, which has just been enormous,” said Schraner, who previously ran a catering business when he was living in Melbourne.
Schraner doesn’t have to think twice when asked what the Friday night “Leeroy’s Bistro” specialty is.
“The schnitzel… it has won national awards before. We do a $12 schnitzel with a homemade gravy and it’s a winner, no doubt about that,” Schraner said.
“Every second dish ordered is the schnitzel.”
With Schraner as coach, the Beasties are undefeated and on top of the ladder in both division one weekend and midweek pennant.
The weekend pennant season is three rounds old, although, Schraner has played only two games so far, but had good reason for missing last week – he was playing in the World Champion of Champions event in Sydney.
Schraner has won the past two Australian Champion of Champions titles and produced a strong performance on the world stage in which he fell one step shy of playing off in the final when beaten by New Zealand’s Shannon McIlroy in a semi-final.
“I was nearly inconsolable when I lost the semi-final last week. I was devastated, but after watching the gold medal game and how well Shannon played, I think he would have cleaned anyone up,” Schraner said.
“Then when I stood on the dais and received a bronze medal, I felt a hell of a lot better. It had been 42 years since a Tasmanian male won a world bowls medal… Leigh Bishop won a silver in the men’s fours in 1976 and we’re now the only two to have won a world medal for Tasmania. When you put it in that sort of context, it’s extremely special.”
While he’s still only in the infancy of his tenure at Bendigo East, Schraner – who made his Australian debut against England in a Test at Moama in 2010 – says he is impressed by the standard of competition in Bendigo.
“The quality of the draw bowling is right up there. With the consistency of the greens in the area you just expect people to draw shot constantly and the standard is very good,” Schraner said.
“It’s a bit of a different style to metro bowls, which is far more aggressive and loose. Here you have experienced players who just back themselves to draw shot.
“Most of the games so far have been really close and it looks like a competition with really good depth.”
Schraner made his pennant debut for Bendigo East in a 109-71 belting of Castlemaine – a side that has caused the Beasties plenty of problems in recent seasons.
Schraner’s opposing skipper that day was a former team-mate of his at Altona, Greg Podesta. Schraner’s rink came out on top 29-18.
“You have to try to treat him as just another player, but I played a bit with him back at Altona, so I’m used to his name and his face, but I couldn’t match him that day,” Podesta said.
“He’s a quality player who plays the right shots at the right time and did a lot that day to influence the result.
“If he wasn’t in the East team we were definitely a chance to win the game, but with him in there we weren’t, so that’s the type of difference that he makes.”
Bendigo East team-mate Rob Clough describes it as a dream come true to play alongside Schraner as his third, with the rink so far unbeaten and ranked No.1 in the BBD with wins by 11, 16 and seven shots.
“There’s a real air of excitement around the club and having Lee come on board as coach really has given us a new lease of life,” Clough said.
“He’s coaching the men and women, he’s doing individual coaching on technique, we’ve got written coaching notes and the inspiration you get from playing with someone who is that good is just incredible.
“He’s so meticulous with his planning and certainly for me and most of us here, it’s taking our bowls to a whole new level. I’m learning so much every week and the way in which he reads the head and his shot selection is just phenomenal to watch.”
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