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Club Rugby A-Z 2024

  • By Scott MacLean

The 2024 club season kicks off on Saturday with the first of 13 rounds in the Premier Men’s Swindale Shield along with the Premier 2 Harper Lock Shield, Colts Paris Memorial, and the Women’s Rebecca Liua’ana Trophy.

Our ninth annual A-Z looks at the season ahead.

A – Administration: It can be easy to rag on those who do the work behind the scenes, but that’s often without knowing all the balls that they must juggle. While every club and school need them, a shout out to two in particular; Emma Paisley – who has returned to the union in 2024 – and College Sports’ David Fa’atafa, without who the game in the province at community level would really struggle.

B – Bond, Ross Bond: The veteran coach is back in the Premier rugby game, taking back the reins of Poneke 20 years after he took the Kilbirnie club to their last Jubilee Cup triumph. Between himself, new director of rugby Nehe Milner-Skudder, and Reggie Goodes – who has stayed on as an assistant – there’s no shortage of experience in the coaching box, but will that lead to better and more consistent results for the streetkids this term?

C – Crisis’s: It seems these days that rugby in the capital lurches from one problem to another; whether that be the ongoing slide of player numbers, record financial losses, or even finding a home for its top men’s representative side that doesn’t look massively embarrassing on TV. Can the rot be stopped?

D – Ducks: For most of the week, Lyndhurst Park is a haven for webbed-feet aquatic birds, but they have to share their home with Tawa on training nights and Saturday’s. Three-time winners over the past decade-plus, a seventh place in the Swindale and second-round playoff exit is not what they’ve come to expect in recent years. Departures might have hit them hard, but they’re not a side to be written-off easily.

E – Eclipse: The sun set pretty quickly on MSP’s run as Women’s champions, going from winners to being unable to front a team in 2024. That leaves just seven starters, and concern about that sector of the game as the successful World Cup hasn’t resulted in much of a bounce, let alone additional teams. MSP’s demise would seem to leave the door wide open for Petone, but will the old guard of Norths and Ories reassert themselves, or will a new contender emerge?

F – Fa’atonu: Can one of the province’s best, and most experienced and loved sons turn around the fortunes of its oldest club? Well, we’re going to find out. Surprisingly dumped by MSP, Fa’atonu Fili has moved up to Hataitai Park to take up the challenge of reviving the Wellington Axemen, who last won a Premier match in 2021. It’s a monumental task but other clubs have shown it can be done. One thing though – can the Axe find a matching set of jerseys this year?

G – Grimace: The expression most commonly seen on the faces of Norths supporters, as their Jubilee Cup-winning backline scattered to all parts and their side spiralled from the heights of being champions to the depths of 12th. Their forward pack remained one of the competitions best, so if they can cobble together the former to complement the latter a return to where they believe they should be is on the cards. But will that be this year?

H – Howl: 2023 was a lean season for Avalon, as their two Senior Men’s sides notched just a single win between them and generally struggled to stem the tide when they fell behind. A proud club who never to be short of support from their community is 2024 the year their fortunes start to turn, and the Wolves’ cry is one of jubilation?

I – Ian: As in Galloway, the home of Western Suburbs. Once one of the region’s leading clubs and the place of players like So’oialo, Tiatia, and Ieremia, the Roosters have fallen on hard times since their eviction from the Premier ranks in 2013. Last year saw their Under 85s fail to complete the season leaving just the Reserve Grade Mixed Veges standing. Is their hope for a club whose history (via Athletic) pre-dates the union, or is the chook cooked?

J – Journey: The one over the Hill Road into Wainuiomata is not one opposing sides like to make, not when they know they’ll face a passionate local crowd in the close confines of William Jones Park. The home team are a side in transition, moving on from that loyal band that served so long and onto a new generation. Four wins was their lot in 2023, but by how many will that increase in 2024?

K – Kilograms: Or more precisely a maximum of 85 of them before kick-off. The weight-restricted grade provides not just an avenue for rugby for smaller blokes, but also some of the best rugby you’ll find on a Saturday afternoon across the region with last year’s pulsating final between OBU and Tawa a case in point. The former will be looking to repeat as champions and go deep again in the National Club Cup, but will the latter or someone else reign in 2024?

L – Legacy: Since their formation just over 40 years ago, no club has won more Jubilee Cups than Marist St Pats but like others, it’s been a long time since they’ve had their hands on it. 2024 sees a(nother) new coach, some departures, some arrivals, and some returnees, so will that see them be not just the Top Dogs in the eastern suburbs but a contender to win it all?

M – Miss: Under the current format someone has to finish ninth and miss the Jubilee playoffs, and last year that was Hutt Old Boys Marist who’s 41 points was still one short. There were the notable victories to keep them in the hunt like back-to-back wins over Ories and Tawa but were ultimately doomed by dropping their first three matches. There’s too much talent at the Hutt Rec for this to be more than blip, so how will the Eagles fly this season?

N – Near: In claiming their maiden Swindale Shield and pulling in bumper crowds to Ngati Toa Domain, Paremata-Plimmerton enjoyed the most spectacular season in their history but would have spent the summer wondering what might have been in the Jubilee Cup final. After having gotten so close to it, will the Hammerheads be circling again at season’s end?

O – Opportunities: Every year another batch of players head elsewhere to try their luck. Australia seems to have become the place to go in the last couple of years, and where you could put together a pretty good team of ex-Wellingtonians with former Premier player Tupou Sopoaga the busy man on the recruitment front. Closer to home, you’ll find Toby Crosby and Garry Tuileketu lining up in the Warriors U21 side.

P – Pace: Last season Johnsonville hit on a plan; as veteran Andy Ellis was heard to say during one game “We’re going to run them off their feet”. And it worked, with the Hawks flying up the ladder and becoming a ‘must-see’ team on route to finishing the Swindale. That Jubilee Cup semi-final loss to Ories will provide all the motivation they need and armed with belief last year gave them, can they run all the way this time around?

Q – Quest: Every team starts out dreaming of a championship, even if it’s more realistic for some than others. There’s plenty to go around and celebrations to be had though if you’re certain you know where those trophies will end up and where those parties will be, well you’re a better judge of where things are at at this point of the year than I am!

R – Roam: Another year, and still the challenge of finding a permanent home for Old Boys-University remains. This season will see the Goats’ nomadic existence split between their Nairnville and Rugby League Park grazing blocks, and while that would unsettle the other sides the students seem to thrive on it. The most successful side of the last decade, you expect them to be there again; will it be party time again at the Cambridge?

S – Shiny: It might have taken a couple of years, but finally the Upper Hutt Rams have a home again with the completion of the new Maidstone Hub and no more trudging off to a car park for showers. Not that that proved much of an impediment last year as they thundered up the ladder before becoming one of Ories’ victims in those last few weeks. It’s been some time since a Premier trophy found its way to “the ‘Stone”, so will they be able to add some shiny silverware to their shiny new home in 2024?

T – Triumph: 2023 was just that for Oriental Rongotai, as three of their senior sides took home silverware at the end of the season including the big one; the Jubilee Cup. It’ll be a big ask to achieve that again, but no club in the province has a greater sense of community than the Magpies and who’ll bet against them making another run in 2024?

U – Underage: Expect a bit of a dogfight in the Colts competition this season, with perennial contenders HOBM, Petone, and OBU expected to be there along with defending champions Ories and an ambitious Upper Hutt Rams side. Yet there could still be someone else from within the pack who shows out. And at the college level will someone else get in the way of the decider being yet another episode in the Scots vs Stream saga?

V – Villagers: The moniker that Petone have called themselves – proudly – for eons. Last season saw a regression from the heights of 2022 but fifth in their defence of the Swindale and taking home the Hardham Cup was still noteworthy. But they’ll expect more themselves and ending a 20-year wait to bring the Jubilee Cup back to North Park will be their goal. If starlet Stanley Solomon is handed the keys at first-five they’ll have as good a chance as any.

W – Whistle: The region is well served by the WRRA and its referees, and particularly so at the Premier level where there’s a solid mix of experience and talent. There’s little change on the laws front with last year’s NZR innovations continuing but the introduction of the “20-minute red card” to community-level will bear watching. Will we see it being reached for more often?

X – eXpect: Look for more coverage from our neighbouring unions this year. With one part of the Clubrugby team now residing on the Kapiti coast and another in the Wairarapa, we’re in a position where we can give those competitions, and Manawatu’s, a bit more of a mention while keeping up our standards on the Wellington ones.

Y – Yesteryear: Rugby has a rich history in the capital, as do each of the clubs whether it’s one continuous line, or one that’s intertwined with mergers in the past. Old Timers Days are a celebration of that, so if there’s one game you can make for your club this year, make sure it’s that one.

Z – Zoom lenses: As always, we reserve this space for the phalanx of photographers out there every weekend capturing the action, and without the game would not get the coverage it deserves. So once more thanks to: Mike and Caroline Lewis, Andy McArthur, Dave Brownlie, Dave Lintott, Russell ‘Chainsaw’ Potts, Hugh Pretorius, Stewart Baird, T-Paul Gale, Joe Serci, Masanori Udagawa, Reef Reid, Peter McDonald, Warwick Burke, James Foy, Barry Stead, Tarn Styche, Dan Taylor, Steve Rodgers, Jun Tanlayco, Jared Clarke, Mark Fairmaid and others, for your work. Photos are to be shared on social media (for commercial or other purposes please always seek permission/get in touch first), but please always credit the photographer where possible, respect watermarking on images and thank them when you see them! 

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