By HARRY CLARKE
TWO professional bull riders from central and western Queensland have secured their debut spots at this weekend’s PBR State of Origin II event in Tamworth, and say they’re determined help their team stay ahead of the competition.
Yeppoon local Ben Moran, 18, and Barcaldine local Jackson Gray, 21, will both compete for Queensland at the 2022 PBR Monster Energy Origin Series after strong performances at the Toowoomba Invitational earlier this month.
Modelled after the State of Origin rugby league series, the blues and maroons bull riding showdown puts 10-cowboy Queensland and New South Wales teams head to head for an interstate competition.
Team Queensland is already dominating the dirt after surging to an early 1-0 lead at the first leg of the series in Newcastle last month.
PBR Australia general manager Glen Young said while the team captains were selected earlier in 2022, riders must continually earn their place based on performances at events during the PBR Monster Energy Tour.
“Jackson Gray made his 2022 PBR Australia season debut in Toowoomba and courtesy of an 11th place result, secured his first-ever opportunity to compete at PBR Origin this weekend, where he is currently ranked No.19 in the race for the 2022 PBR Australia Championship” said Young said.
“Ben Moran delivered a career-best effort in Toowoomba to earn his chance to represent the Maroons this weekend when he covered Rip Slinger for 78.5 points.
“Both riders will join the talented Team Queensland roster this weekend, where they’ll be eagerly helping the team defend their Championship title.”
As the anticipation continues to build for this weekend’s event, four-time PBR Australia Champion and Team Queensland captain, Aaron Kleier, said his team was determined to defend its championship title following back-to-back victories.
“It is a great privilege to put on this maroon jersey and have all the Queenslanders at home supporting you, we’re doing it for them really,” Kleier said.
“Bull riding is such an individual sport, so when we get to do it as a team, especially to do it for Team Queensland, it just means a great deal.
“We just work good together as a team, have fun and get behind each other, you see us all there, all cheering for each other.
“We’ve kicked it off like we’ve kicked the other years off and hopefully just keep it on a roll and win the next two.”
While the Blues fell short of the event win in Newcastle, team captain Cody Heffernan, seven-time PBR World Finals qualifier Lachlan Richardson, and NSW young gun Braith Nock were dominant in the individual competition, finishing second, third and fourth, respectively.
Heffernan said he was is hoping to turn the tables on Team Queensland this weekend in Tamworth and level the series ahead of the last PBR Origin event in Brisbane on May 21.
“We just got to believe in ourselves. Those first couple of bulls, make sure we get some qualified rides, get the ball rolling early,” Heffernan said.
“Every ride counts for the spectators watching. We’ll make Tamworth count.”
Young said this weekend’s Origin II event in Tamworth would be “make or break” for the series outcome and had the potential to determine which team will take out the overall Origin Series Championship.
“The PBR Origins Champion will be the team that wins two or more events in the series, and the event winner will be the team with the highest combined score in the event aggregate,” Young said.
“Tamworth has the potential to be the deciding factor in who will take out the Championship title, so we’re looking forward to seeing if Team Queensland will pull off another event win or if we’ll see Team New South Wales make even ground.
There is $30,000 in prize money up for grabs this weekend in Tamworth and $40,000 on the line in Brisbane.
The best rider of the series gets a $20,000 bonus and this year’s Monster Energy PBR Australian Champion will receive a $50,000 year-end bonus.
“The atmosphere in Tamworth is always electric and we couldn’t think of a better place to hold the second instalment of our PBR Monster Energy Origin Tournament,” Young said