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Big dig energy coming to Feilding as excavator operators vie for national title

11 Mar 2024


New Zealand’s top excavator operators will be bringing big dig energy to Feilding at the end of this week when they roll their 13-tonne machines onto Manfeild Park for the Civil Contractors New Zealand CablePrice National Excavator Operator Competition.

This year’s event, taking place on 15 and 16 March during the Central Districts Field Days, marks the 30th anniversary of the heavy metal showdown.

The 2024 edition will feature a host of new never-seen-before challenges, as well as the crowd-pleasing tests of precision fans have come to know and love, such as dunking a basketball using an excavator’s bucket or pouring a cup of tea using a specially engineered excavator attachment.

“It promises to be the most spectacular competition yet, with some breathtaking new challenges that won’t be revealed to competitors until they rumble out onto the arena on the event’s first day”, said Civil Contractors New Zealand Chief Executive Alan Pollard.

“The quirky tests of skill always bring the crowds but there’s a more serious side to the event as well, with plenty of traditional tasks such as trenching, operating around underground services, and tests of operator’s health and safety knowledge.”

Pollard said a big talking point this year was whether defending champion Troy Calteaux from Otago company Andrew Haulage 2011 Ltd could become the first to win four titles.

Standing in his way will be 12 other elite operators who have won separate excavator operator competitions in their home regions to reach the national finals.

Among them is Manawatū-Whanganui champion John McMillan, who will have the benefit of local support. McMillan works for Loaders Civil in Whanganui and is hoping to finish on the pedestal in his first tilt at the national title.

“The other competitors will travel from all across the country and they might have a few people in support, but being from the local area most people will be flying that Manawatu-Whanganui flag and supporting me.”

Pollard said the annual competition provided a chance to celebrate New Zealand’s excavator operators and inspire young people to consider careers in civil contracting.

“Whether it’s aging pipe networks or demand for new roads, the infrastructure challenges we are facing across New Zealand are becoming increasingly acute. We need more machine operators and many other roles across the industry and this is a great way to shine a spotlight on the talent required and the opportunities available in civil construction.”

The competition was founded in 1994 by CCNZ Manawatu Branch as the brainchild of local contractors Graeme Blackley and Grant Smith.

“It’s amazing to think that this competition has now been around for longer than Super Rugby. It’s as Kiwi as they come and it would have to be one of the more unique spectacles our country has to offer,” Pollard said.

He encouraged people to visit the Central District Field Days to support the competitors, many of whom had been involved in building and maintaining roads and water pipes across the country or assisting with the recovery from Cyclone Gabrielle over the past year.

To celebrate the event’s 30th anniversary, a special exhibition showdown will take place alongside the official competition, with Calteaux going up against the only other person to have won the National Excavator Operator Competition three times – Gordon Fox.

Operators compete side by side and Calteaux’s timed events will see him paired with Northland operator Fox – who won in 1997, 1999 and 2002 when he last competed. Fox won’t be part of the official competition but will help set a benchmark for the other operators.

Other mainstays of the event will return, including the Z Energy One-day Job Challenge, which tests the full range of operators’ skills and involves site planning, layout and execution.

An EPIC Careers Hub will be set up next to the excavator operator competition course for the duration of the Central Districts Field Days (14-16 March), for members of the public interested in trying excavator operation or exploring careers in the industry.

The careers hub will feature a truck-mounted excavator simulator, a VR excavator experience, truck driving and traffic control experiences, a Connexis digital simulator, floor talks from infrastructure construction workers and opportunities to meet and be hired by civil infrastructure construction companies and opportunities to have a go on a real excavator, supported by an expert trainer.

The Platinum Sponsor for this year’s competition is CablePrice, which has been a longstanding supporter of the industry and the competition. CablePrice also provides and services the Hitachi excavators the competitors operate during the event.

Other major competition sponsors include Attach2, BeforeUDig, Brolube, Civil Trades, Connexis, Contractor Magazine, Doug the Digger, First Gas, Hirepool, Humes, Milwaukee, Major Oak Safety Training and Z Energy.

Finalists: CCNZ CablePrice National Excavator Operator Competition 2024

Defending Champion: Troy Calteaux, Andrew Haulage 2011 Ltd

Three-time defending champion Troy Calteaux from Andrew Haulage 2011 Ltd in Otago will be aiming for his record fourth national title at the event. The Milton local will be aiming to become the first person to win the event four times and said he was looking forward competing in front of a strong contingent of family who would be travelling up to support him.

“Anyone can win it on the day – you’ve just got to treat it like a day at work. I hope one of us from Otago takes it out and keeps the title down south.”

Auckland: David Benioni, CB Civil

David Benioni from Clevedon works for CB Civil and is currently working on earthworks and drainage for a KiwiRail project upgrading the rail network between Auckland and Pukekohe.

This year will be his first time at the national finals and he said he was looking forward to the experience and learning as much as possible during his first outing.

“I’m ready to show off my skills against the best of the best.”

Bay of Plenty: Lloyd Jenks, JME Contractors

Lloyd Jenks from Rotorua works for JME Contractors providing a variety of civil infrastructure services to businesses across the Bay of Plenty. He qualified for the finals after his success in the Bay of Plenty regional competition in June 2023, demonstrating progression after placing third in the regional competition in 2021 and second in 2022.

“I watched the regional excavator operator competition one year and thought ‘I can do that’. Now I’ve won it and qualified for the nationals.”

Waikato: Michael Brown, Fulton Hogan

Michael Brown from Hamilton works for Fulton Hogan, and specialises in bulk earthworks and quarrying. This year will be his first time at the finals and he said he was relaxed about the challenge because excavator operating was what he did “day in day out”.

“If it's anything like the regionals it's going to be a good test. I’m proud to support my region and it’s great that my family will be there in support.

Hawke's Bay East Coast: Thomas Perston, Quality Roading and Services

Thomas Perston from Wairoa works for Quality Roading and Services as a supervisor managing housing subdivision projects. This will be his first time at the finals after five previous attempts at winning the Civil Contractors New Zealand CablePrice Hawke’s Bay East Coast Regional Excavator Operator Competition. He said perseverance was key to his success.

“I can’t wait to go and represent Hawke’s Bay and the East Coast at the nationals - the plan is to take out first place.”

Taranaki: John Northcott, Graham Harris Ltd

John Northcott from New Plymouth works for Graham Harris Ltd. He specialises in earthworks for housing subdivisions and has more than 20 years of excavator-operating experience.

Northcott has been to the national finals once before in 2021 and said he was looking forward to giving it his “best shot” and enjoying the experience.

“It’s exciting to be competing and pretty cool to be representing my region again. It’s always good to get to know the other competitors and see how they do things.”

Manawatū-Whanganui: John McMillan, Loaders Civil

John McMillan from Whanganui has worked for Loaders Civil for five years supervising construction projects and is currently building retaining walls in Te Oreore to stabilise State Highway 4. After qualifying for the finals in the Manawatū-Whanganui regional competition on 2 March he said he was looking forward to the challenge and showcasing his skills as the local champion.

“I love this industry and I think the national competition is a great catalyst to get as many young people into civil construction as possible.

“The other competitors will travel from all across the country and they might have a few people in support, but being from the local area, most people will be flying that Manawatū-Whanganui flag and supporting me.”

Wellington Wairarapa: Bronson Jones, Bryce O’Sullivan Contracting Limited

Bronson Jones from Porirua works for Bryce O’Sullivan Contracting Limited as a foreman and grader operator, maintaining the region’s roads. Jones was taught to use an excavator when he was 12 years old by his grandfather. This year will be his first time at the finals and he said he was looking forward to the challenge and learning from the other competitors.

“I'm just privileged to be given the honour to go and represent the Wellington Wairarapa region – it’s a heavy responsibility.”

Nelson Marlborough: Sam Mooney, Edridge Contracting

Sam Mooney from Richmond works for Edridge Contracting and enjoys tackling large-scale earthworks across the Nelson Marlborough region. He said he couldn’t wait to get to the nationals and give it his best shot.

“I’m really looking forward to meeting the other competitors and seeing how they operate – there will be a wealth of experience at the competition.”

Otago: Kaleb Hollands, Hollands Excavators

Kaleb Hollands from Mosgiel works for Hollands Excavators and is competing at the finals for the second time. At 20 years of age, Hollands will be the youngest competitor at the nationals, but he said he was going in with a positive attitude and looking forward to meeting the new competitors.

“I'm feeling less stressed now I have an idea of what's happening and a bit more experience - I know what I'm in for. I’m very proud to be representing Otago again.”

Southland: Brad Fallow, SouthRoads

Brad Fallow from Invercargill works for SouthRoads on bridge building, bulk earthworks and drainage. This year will be his first time at the finals and he said he was looking forward to it being “a bit of fun.”

“It will be good to meet other guys that enjoy driving diggers, every digger driver is different so it will be interesting to see how everyone does their thing.”

Canterbury Westland: Sam Burleigh, Thompson Construction and Engineering

Sam Burleigh from Timaru works for Thompson Construction and Engineering building foundations for commercial developments and will be celebrating his 10-year anniversary this year.

He said he was looking forward to checking out the other operator’s excavator skills and, despite feeling “pretty nervous”, he planned to “give it a crack”.

“It’s an honour to represent my region – it’s not something that everyone gets to have a shot at.”

Northland: Steven George, Steven George Contracting Limited

Steven George, from Whangārei, is an owner-operator with his own company Steven George Contracting Limited.  He has been to the national finals once before, securing second place in 2023, and said his aim was to make it all the way this year.

“I’m looking forward to the chance to test myself against the best of the best in the industry."

 

 

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