Update: Saturday morning – Kleier maintains his lead
Number one ranked bull rider, Clermont’s Aaron Kleier, maintained his lead for the PBR Australian title after night one, placing third in round one and then being bucked off his round two bull, Paradise Outdoors Fully Locked and Loaded.
The bull owned by Dittmann Bucking Bulls was the highest marked bull of the night – 44.75 points.
Two of the other cowboys in contention, Cliff Richardson and Cody Heffernan, both from the Hunter Valley in NSW, were not in form, and have made their bid for this year’s title more difficult when they do battle on Saturday night.
Fraser Babbington, who sustained a punctured lung in the PBR Iron Cowboy event in Tamworth last weekend, was unable to make it to Townsville to compete last night, due to flight cancellations as a result of the severe dust storms in Sydney.
Babbington is still to confirm if he will make the final night of competition on Saturday evening – the derailing of his travel plans following the injury the weekend before have left him questioning whether it’s a sign that he’s just not meant to ride this weekend.
It was Brazilian rider, Rubens Barbosa, who took out the honours on Friday night, being the only rider to make qualified rides on two bulls.
Friday, November 23 – Aaron Kleier set for the ride of his life
Clermont’s ‘Mr Consistency’ in the bull-riding world, 20-year-old Aaron Kleier, is set for the rides of his life this weekend, at the PBR grand finals.
Currently holding down number one position on the PBR Australia standings, Aaron is one of four bull riding athletes in the running for the title of national champion.
Others in the neck-and-neck battle are Hunter Valley cowboys, Cliff Richardson and Cody Heffernan, in second and fourth positions, and Gisborne, New Zealand’s Fraser Babbington.
Aaron, the 2017 PBR Australia Rookie of the Year, given the Mr Consistency nickname because he’s ridden more bulls than anyone on the tour, grew up in the Clermont region as one of four children, going to school via distance education then attending the Rockhampton Grammar School.
He rode horses and cows on the 22,000ha family property and grew up in the rodeo environment, thanks to his parents breeding rough stock, which they still supply for PBR competitions.
He was 14 when he had his first bull ride and is now one of 18 athletes from Australia and abroad competing in Townsville on November 23 and 24.
According to PBR Australia general manager, Glen Young, Babbington and Heffernan have already nabbed an Australian title and Kleier and Richardson have been in striking distance before, so all the boys have the pedigree and potential to rise to the top.
“The fight for the Aussie title is at full throttle pace – it’s down to the wire. All of the riders are dialed in and have their eye on the prize – so we expect to see some exceptional efforts as the front-runners fight for supremacy,” he said.
Kleier has led the Australian standings throughout 2018 but at the other end of the spectrum, Babbington, the 2015 PBR Australia champion is looking to continue his celebrated career on a high note.
He’s in some of the best form of his career and is intent on showing that experience can prevail over youth in his quest for another Australian title.
Also in the mix are Hunter Valley riders Cody Heffernan and Cliff Richardson, the only competitors flying the flag for News South Wales at the grand finals.
Heffernan took out the PBR Australia title in 2016, while Richardson is a perennial title contender, having finished in the year-end top five on several occasions, his best season being fourth in both 2013 and 2014.
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Other Queenslanders who have made the grand final cut include Ayr cowboy Budd Williamson, 31, whose injury list includes 11 broken ribs, two punctured lungs and a facial reconstruction, and who boasts additional talents as a cane farmer, barber, leather craftsman, Latin dancer, horseman and competitive lawn bowl player.
Others on the competition roster are Nebo brothers Mitchell and Justin Paton, Rockhampton contender Jason Mara, and Dingo young gun Bailey Woodard.
The international rider contingent includes former Brazilian number two, Lucas Divino, and fellow Brazilian riders Junior Quaresima and Rubens Barbosa.
Bulls set to star
The PBR grand finals will also attract some of the best bulls and stock contractors in the sport, with superstar bovines set to wow local audiences.
The 2017 stock contractor of the year, Brandenburg Bucking Bulls, headed up by 22-year-old female bull breeder Dakota Brandenburg, will have top bulls in competition, as will leading Mackay stock contractor Dittmann Bucking Bulls, owned by Jason Dittmann.
Dittmann and Brandenburg are renowned in an industry that prides itself on going the extra mile to ensure its animal athletes are conditioned to perfection.
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Brandenburg, who first started working with bulls when she was 13, cares for around 140 bulls at any given time.
At the age of 18, she became the youngest female bull owner and trainer in the country, and now manages the day-to-day feeding, training, diet and vaccinations all the bulls in her care.
Dittmann too makes the training, protection and care of his animal athletes paramount.
“Our bulls are like pets. I run them each afternoon for about one kilometre, just as you would a pet dog,” he said.
“The difference is, I need a buggy to keep up with them – and I keep them along a soft conveyer belt fence so there’s no barbs they can get caught on and hurt themselves.
“They know there’s a good feed at the end of it, so they’re usually pretty keen to run for me.
Townsville has embraced the PBR since it launched there in 1999. Since then, more than $1m in prize money has been paid out and the sport has continued to grow.
Tickets are on sale at www.TECC.net.au