Following a memorable 1921 season, particularly on the representative front with Wellington ending the year with the Ranfurly Shield locked away and the All Blacks hosting the Springboks in their inaugural series, 1922 failed to reach the same lofty heights.
Wellington fell away – and lost the Shield to Hawke’s Bay in the first defence of the year. There was hope that France would visit New Zealand but this was cancelled early on in the year, and the All Blacks and New Zealand Māori teams toured New South Wales and both played a handful of internal matches.
Club rugby in 1922 was still booming. Part one of two of our 1922 series below looks at the club rugby landscape and provides a run-down of the season. Part two will look at the representative season.
Interest had never been higher in club rugby, and a huge crowd would attend Athletic Park in August to watch the end of season decider by the two great rivals of the day, Petone and Poneke.
The history books would show Petone as champions this year, winning their final 10-5 after their two previous clashes of the season had resulted in a 3-3 draw and a 5-0 win to Petone. Defending champions Poneke were in the box seat with a fortnight to play but too many injuries and losses in the last two rounds to Marist and Petone meant that themselves and the Villagers finished all square on 25 competition points and the final was played to separate them.
The season also saw the rise of a new club on the block, that would in later decades have a profound effect on the Wellington Club Rugby Championship. This was Marist Old Boys Rugby Football Club. Marist were right up there for much of the season but faded at the end. University was the other club to challenge the big two, but five of their number went on tour with the New Zealand University team at a crucial stage and their 1921 All Black captain centre George Aitken left before the end to become a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University.
With Petone and Poneke still going strong today, Marist were one of four clubs in the 10-team Senior Championship competition (up from nine teams in 1921) that went on to amalgamate with other clubs and with these merged entities still in existence. Marist later joined forces with St Pat’s Old Boys (which wasn’t affiliated with the WRFU until 1926), the others being Oriental (now Oriental-Rongotai), Athletic (Wests) and Wellington College Old Boys and University (both now Old Boys University). Two teams – Berhampore and Selwyn – both folded in later years.
Wellington College Old Boys were entering the Senior Championship for the first time in 11 years, after winning the Junior Championship in 1921.
The 10th team in the competition was the Wellington Football Club, who were going through a lean period and only managed one win in 1922. They would rise again and win the title next in 1930.
Another feature of the season was the introduction of the Henry Dewar Shield, after the Melrose club All Black who was killed on the Gallipoli heights in August 1915. This was a Club Championship trophy to be awarded to the club gaining the highest aggregate championship points in all grades. Petone were the first winners. Petone also won the Junior Championship title, with Johnsonville a close second.
1922 also saw the Technical Old Boys, Khandallah and Onslow clubs join the WRFU competitions. TOB soon folded and Khandallah merged with Onslow in 1926, who in turn carried on to 1983 when they joined Athletic and Karori to form Wests.
In all, some 2,500 players across 120 teams lined up to start the new season, up from 2,000 players and 93 teams the previous year. Most clubs were adding teams to their rosters. For example, Eastbourne had fielded two clubs in its debut year in 1921 and early season reports had their number doubling to four.
The President of the Wellington Rugby Referees’ Association was invited to attend the weekly meetings of the WRFU management committee on an advisory basis in 1922.
In his column in the Evening Post on 11 March ‘Dropkick’ noted that with a long languid summer coming to a close the upcoming rugby season was going to be “hot”. “There is only one real season in the annual procession of New Zealand Days, and that is the football season,” Dropkick enthused.
On the administrative front, extensive work was undertaken from early March on upgrading Athletic Park’s Western Bank. Recent slippages and dangerous conditions for spectators (even by 1922 health and safety standards) necessitated an upgrade. The Springbok test the previous year was played in torrential rain and that part of the ground became a quagmire.
The season opened in April with the traditional WRFU sevens tournament at Athletic Park. Petone were the winners of the Biel Cup, beating Berhampore B 10-3 in the final. Wellington College ‘B’ beat Wellington College ‘A’ in the 5th Class competition.
The big takeaway from the NZRU’s AGM the following week was the ratification of the amended ‘kick-into-touch’ rule. This changed the rule where you could kick the ball out on the full from anywhere on the field and the lineout would form where it went out, to what is the modern rule whereby you can only kick the ball out on the full from inside your 22 to gain ground up field. The rule change met resistance from some unions, including Wellington. It was introduced part-way through the season at all levels.
On to the competition proper, and the opening rounds were choppy, and form was mixed.
The first weekend of the Senior Championship started in poor weather and saw Berhampore cause an upset straight off the bat by beating defending champions Poneke 9-4. Petone beat Marist 11-6, with Mark Nicholls kicking eight points and having a hand in their only try. Nicholls would be the competition’s leading points scorer. Oriental beat Varsity 11-6 at Kelburn Park, Athletic beat Wellington 5-0 and newcomers WCOB beat Selwyn 11-9.
Varsity and Wellington representative wing A. Jackson scored two brilliant tries in the students’ rampant 25-0 win over Petone in round two. Twelve University players were destined to play for Wellington this season.
Petone bounced back in week three to lower Athletic 21-9, as Poneke overcame Oriental 14-0. W. Mahoney scored a brace for Marist in their 22-0 win over Wellington.
Marist pushed Poneke hard but lost 13-8 in round four, while Petone pulled past Selwyn 6-0.
After a month of sunshine, rain made the fields greasy for the fifth round, as the new kick-into-touch rule was implemented across all grades. Marist struggled to beat Athletic, Varsity beat Berhampore, Petone eased past Wellington 26-0 and Bert Calcinai scored a hat-trick for Poneke in their 14-0 win over Selwyn at the Duppa St ground.
Moving into week six on the first Saturday of June and Poneke and Petone contested a 3-3 draw – Poneke scored an unconverted try and Petone a penalty. Their draw enabled Varsity to take the outright competition lead after they trounced WCOB 39-15, with George Aitken prominent.
Varsity’s fortunes changed the very next Saturday when, with five players just selected to play for NZU against Sydney University four days later, were beaten 18-3 by Poneke.
Week eight saw Marist beating Varsity 11-3, Petone and Poneke both win over Berhampore and Athletic respectively, to see the two favoured teams rise to the top again.
The last matches of the first round were played on 24 June, the darkest weekend of the year. Poneke beat Wellington 30-12 and Petone beat overcame Oriental 23-11. Marist took down WCOB 19-0 to rise to outright third just behind the big two.
Big news off the field, with Berhampore defaulting their match to Selwyn in protest of their player N. Mouatt who was ordered off the field the previous week against Petone. Mouatt was suspended for three playing Saturdays, a decision his teammates took exception to and refused to play on Saturday.
With the annual North-South game played in Auckland on the same day, several other teams were missing key players in round 10. None more so than Petone, missing halfback Ginger Nicholls and first five Mark Nicholls. Marist took advantage by winning their clash 11-0. Poneke beat Selwyn 8-3 to assume the outright lead but there was some controversy surrounding one of their tries.
The following weekend was notable for the Wellington Axemen winning their one and only game of the season, overcoming WCOB 12-8 at Newtown Park. Leaders Poneke beat Oriental 17-3, second placed Petone accounted for Selwyn 32-11 and third placed Marist took down Athletic 28-3.
Now into mid-July, Petone turned the tables on Varsity from the first game of the year, beating the Students 22-8, Poneke earned a 19-0 win over Berhampore and Marist beat WCOB 18-0.
A bit of action in round 13, with Oriental lock and captain Jim Moffitt leading his side to a 12-6 win over Petone, Marist blanking Wellington 25-0 and Poneke holding off Varsity 9-5. But Poneke’s win was overshadowed by “rough play” in which a Poneke forward was sent off for allegedly kicking an opponent and several other unsavoury incidents that would probably be yellow cards today.
In matches on the last Saturday of July, Varsity dealt a blow to Marist’s chances by beating them 12-6. Poneke edged Athletic 11-9 and Petone pulled ahead of Berhampore late to win 13-3. Now, with two rounds to play, Poneke (on 25 points) had a 4-point lead on the standings to second placed Petone (21), with Marist (20) and Varsity (15) both unable to win the title.
With two points for a win and one for a draw and none for a loss, playing through champions Poneke could take the title by beating Marist in following week’s penultimate round.
But Marist had other ideas, toppling them 8-6 before a bumper round-robin crowd of 9,000. To compound their injury list, Poneke also lost Wellington representatives, fullback Christopherson and centre Beet Algar, to injury during the game. Meanwhile, Petone beat Athletic 28-14, leaving Poneke still on 25 points and Petone now on 23 heading into the last round.
The format of the competition at the time meant a final would be played only if two teams were tied at the conclusion of the regular season.
Poneke thus had one more bite of the cherry to win the title without the need of a final in the 16th and last round on 12 August.
Thrown into the mix was that on Wednesday 9 August several combined players in the Petone and Poneke teams played for Wellington in their Ranfurly Shield defence at Athletic Park. As will be explained in part two of this 1922 season review, Wellington were ambushed by the Magpies and lost that game.
Heading into the club game on the Saturday, Poneke were missing forwards Bert Calcinai and Sid Shearer who were away with the All Blacks, but Petone had both Nicholls brothers available. In a stirring contest Petone scored the only points late in the first half.
Poneke’s Christopherson made an error in failing to reel in a Petone kick in general play near halfway. The ball was hacked through and Petone followed through to score what proved to be the winning try. Both teams were now equal on championship points, so a re-match and final was called for the next weekend.
Anticipation for this was high and as stated at the top of this article a record crowd of 16,000 for a non-representative rugby match packed Athletic Park to see the two juggernauts of the time battle it out in the 17th and final match of the season.
Both sides were depleted for the final match, as the Dominion reported in its preview: “Both teams suffer through injuries and absence of players. Petone have had to bring one of their three-quarters up into the forward line, owing to four of their forwards being injured and another, Nankerville, having left for Christchurch. Poneke also have a reconstructed team…B. Algar, who has dislocated his shoulder twice this season, intends to take the field.”
Poneke captain Beet Algar was to be a central figure in the game. The Dominion recorded the incident afterwards. “The game was marred by the most regrettable incident of the club season – the referee ordered the Poneke captain, B. Algar, an ex-international, off the field, on a charge of having kicked at an opponent in the last minutes of play.”
It seems that in a desperate act of cover defence, Algar lashed out with his boot at Petone back and Wellington representative Matt Corner and the referee, Mr H. Leith sent him off.
At the time, Petone were leading what had been a “desperate” and “ragged” struggle 7-5, the halftime score. But Mark Nicholls stepped up and kicked the match-winning penalty to give Petone a 10-5 victory.
The final points table in the 1922 season thus read: Petone 27, Poneke 25, Marist Old Boys 24, University 19, Oriental 18, Berhampore 17, Athletic 16, Selwyn 8, Wellington College Old Boys 6, Welliington FC 2.
The two teams that played in the 1922 Wellington club rugby final were:
Petone: Parker, Arthur, Springer, Priest, Ashton (Captain), Thomas, Griffin, Fitzgerald, H.E. Nicholls, Udy, M. Nicholls, Corner, Doc. Nicholls, Ryan, Cowie
Poneke: S. Shearer, Slater, Bowe, McDonald, Calcinai, Parsloe, J. Shearer, King, J. Tilyard, F. Tilyard, Morris, McArthur, B. Algar (Captain), Tunnington, Christopherson
There was a “Most Popular Player” competition in 1922, as voted by the public. The winner of this was T. Troy (Marist), ahead of J. Moffitt (Ories) and H.E. Nicholls (Petone)
In 1923, Petone again beat Poneke in the championship round, winning 11-3. But in a twist, Matt Corner was sent off during this match. The following year, electric streetlights were turned on in Petone for the first time and Petone went on to win the championship for a third consecutive season.
- The Dominion and Evening Post newspapers August 1922 – reporters ‘Touchline’ (EP) and ‘Five-eighths’ (Dom).
- Griffin, Don and Gallagher, Peter. True blue: the first 100 years of the Petone Rugby Football Club Incorporated, 1885-1985 Petone. The Club, 1985
- Poneke FC. A Willing Band of Youths: the history of the Poneke Football Club. Wellington. Poneke Football Club, 1984
- Anderson, John. Victoria University of Wellington Rugby Football Club. The Story of the Green and Golds 1902-1987.