A new bull-riding division is set to launch in Scone next month to help "rookie" junior riders transition into the tougher, open division competitions.
Hunter Valley's own bull-riding champion Cody Heffernan welcomes the idea, saying the new division will be valuable to the development of the next generation of cowboys.
"It's a great development [to] put in place. This will help guys get a feel for these events and not have to get on those super rank bulls straight up," Heffernan said.
The challenger division will launch at this year's Professional Bull Riders (PBR) Monster Energy Tour Scone Invitational event on Saturday, February 4, 2023, at White Park Equine Arena, Scone.
The implementation of the new division follows on from the successful launch of the PBR's Australian junior academy at the sold-out Scone Invitational event in 2022.
PBR Australia general manager Glen Young said that the challenger division would help build the confidence of riders who are nearly ready for the open division.
"What we found was a lot of the rookie riders were going from the juniors straight into the open and unable to handle the level of bull they were coming up against," Mr Young said.
What we found was a lot of the rookie riders were going from the juniors straight into the open and unable to handle the level of bull they were coming up against.- PBR Australia General Manager, Glen Young
"The challenger division gets them onto bulls at a slightly lower ranking and once their confidence is built and they earn a bit of prize money, they can move up."
The PBR Australia Challenger Division has been designed to offer bull riders 18 years and over a pathway into the main open division of the competition with the caveat that riders must also not have won more than $2500 in PBR competition as of February 1, 2023.
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Reigning Australian champion and Hunter Valley local, Cody Heffernan, said he would have benefited from this kind of division when he was moving up the ranks in competitions.
"I had been riding bulls in the open division at rodeos for a year and I went to the PBR as soon as I turned 18 so I'd had a taste of it somewhat," he said.
"At the PBR they bring the best of the best, it's a step up and I didn't fare too well in my first eight events. The challenger division probably would have helped me no doubt."
The Scone Invitational will be Heffernan's first outing for the 2023 season, after triumphing in a nail-biting grand final back in November in Townsville.
The Singleton product said he is looking forward to getting out on the dirt in front of a home crowd at White Park Arena.
"I've had a much-needed break to let the body heal a little bit and it's good to give the mind a break as well," Heffernan continued.
"I'm very excited to be back and it's good to have an event that doesn't take a day or two to get to.
"I can be home in an hour after the event and the weekend is done. It's also much easier for friends and family to come and support."
The second stop on the 2023 Monster Energy Tour will also host a number of international riders, with two riders from Brazil and one from Belgium taking to the arena alongside riders from New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria.
Clermont's Brady Fielder currently leads the competition, taking the event win at the season opener on New Year's Eve in Rockhampton.
He sits 17.5 points ahead of Lachlan Richardson (Gresford, NSW) and Kelsey Pavlou (Toora, VIC) with four-time champion Aaron Kleier (Clermont, QLD) 23 points behind in fourth place.
Gates open at White Park Arena from 4pm with the Junior Academy starting from 5pm. Main event from 7pm with the Challenger Division during the main show.
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