Behind the Chutes: Australian Invasion

By: Justin Felisko
March 12, 2016

The Australians, and one New Zealander, had a big night in Day 1 of the Duluth Invitational.

The Australians, and one New Zealander, had a big night in Day 1 of the Duluth Invitational.

DULUTH, Ga. – Here are three things we learned from Round 1 of the Duluth Invitational at Infinite Energy Center on Saturday night.

Australian Invasion (3-12-16)

Ben Jones danced and the rest of his mates from Australia followed suit.

All four Australian-born bull riders – Justin Paton, Kurt Shephard, Lachlan Richardson and Jones, as well as New Zealand’s Fraser Babbington – all came through with qualified rides in the first round.

Jones led the way with an 86.5-point ride on Fire Rock, which was the first qualified ride of the evening and good enough to earn him a share of the Round 1 victory. The 36-year-old split the victory with Stormy Wing (86.5 points on For Sale) and Paulo Lima (86.5 points on U R Next).

“It was good coming off that high last week to keep things rolling,” Jones said.

Jones, Wing and Lima all earned 70 points toward the world standings. Jones moves from 19th to 15th in the world standings.

Rather than celebrating his round victory, Jones, who has won two consecutive BFTS rounds, was more like a proud papa bear after watching his fellow Australians take care of business.

“I’ve been a part of a lot of cool things in my life, but this is pretty cool,” Jones said. “There are five of us here and five of us got scores. Look out world.”

Paton rode Whistlin Dixie for 84.75 points to finish fifth in the round, while Shephard rode Freaky Eyes for 84.5 points for the first ride of his career and earning him a sixth-place finish.

“Oh, it was a pretty cool bull to get on and it was good to get one underneath my belt,” Shephard said.

Shephard is 21 years old and grew up on a farm in North Queensland. The 2014 Australian Pro Rodeo Association bull riding champion is the first bull rider in his family, but his cousins have competed in Australia and in Canada as bareback riders.

Shephard earned 15 points toward the world standings to move up to 35thin the world standings. Meanwhile, Paton earned 30 points for his fifth-place finish.

Babbington, the 2015 PBR Australia champion, rode his re-ride bull Tahonta’s Magic for 83.5 points to finish tied for 11th.

“We came to win this weekend,” Babbington said during the PBR LIVE broadcast.

Richardson placed 14th out of the 14 qualified rides when he decided to turn down his re-ride option and keep his 77.5-point ride on Cooter.

“The talent has always been there, but it is just such a big move to come over here and believe in yourself,” Jones said. “You come here and the bulls are so different. When you get slammed and things aren’t working out, it is hard to get that belief, but you couldn’t ask for a better group of young fellows.

“These fellows here are the real deal.”

Kolbaba (riding hand injury) breaks out of mini-slump; Triplett (offseason elbow surgery) bucks off in return

Derek Kolbaba broke out of the first slump of his BFTS career by riding Mustard Seed for 83.75 points and an eighth-place finish.

“It feels good, but it is just part of it,” Kolbaba said. “I am not going to make any excuses about it, but it is kind of hard to ride one if you can’t keep your hand in your rope. It is all a mental thing. I just needed to tuck it into the back of my head and not think about it. I am just happy to get one rode.”

The 19-year-old had previously bucked off five consecutive bulls on the BFTS and had been trying to deal with a riding hand injury he sustained at a rodeo last month that also prevented him from competing at the Choctaw Casino Iron Cowboy, powered by Kawasaki.

“It wasn’t making me very happy,” Kolbaba said. “Every time I come here I want to ride my bulls and succeed. I am happy to come here and start things off.”

Matt Triplett, who was making his season debut following offseason elbow surgery on his left riding arm, bucked off his re-ride bull Mouth Hug in 3.23 seconds after previously riding Flex On Em for 67.5 points.

Mauney enters first buckoff streak

Defending World Champion and current No. 3 bull rider J.B Mauney returned to action on Saturday after missing last weekend’s event in Phoenix because of a personal matter and to let a few bumps and bruises heal up.

Mauney was welcomed back to the BFTS with a slam to the dirt at the 6.86-second mark by Tux. He has now bucked off two consecutive bulls on the BFTS for the first time all season.

“It’s been a real good week,” Mauney said before the event on the PBR LIVE pre-show. “I got to stay home for pretty much two weeks straight. Being so close, we didn’t leave until this morning to drive down here.”

Last year, Mauney missed a month and a half because of a torn left ACL and still won his second gold buckle.

The Mooresville, North Carolina, bull rider knows missing an event – or five like he did last year in 2015 – won’t kill his world title hopes, but he still doesn’t like sitting out.

“Yeah you can. I really don’t like too,” Mauney said. “I would rather be able to just go all year and run away with it and not have to worry about it when I get to Finals. But, you know, it makes it a little more interesting when you wait until the last minute to start making your move and it makes it kind of exciting I guess. I wish I would run away with it, but last weekend I needed a weekend off to revamp everything and decided to take it and I did, and I feel a heck of a lot better coming into this weekend.”

Mauney still trails world leader Shane Proctor by 161.66 points after Proctor was bucked off by Psycho Kid in 3.75 seconds.

World No. 2 Joao Ricardo Vieira heads into Round 2 sitting in 13th place following his 82.75-point ride on Gold Rush. No. 4 Fabiano Vieira is tied for 11th with Babbington courtesy of his 83.5-point ride on Blues Man.

Injury Updates

According to Dr. Tandy Freeman, there were seven riders competing with an injury in Round 1: Paulo Lima (rib sprain), Justin Paton (sprained right riding hand and sprained left sternoclavicular joint), Kasey Hayes (right shoulder/free arm separation), Joao Ricardo Vieira (bruised right hamstring), Robson Palermo (sore lower back), Stormy Wing (aggravation of an old sternal fracture) and Derek Kolbaba (sprained riding hand).

Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko

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