Round One Draws & Results HERE
- By Scott MacLean
Here we go, the 141st season of club rugby in the capital since the formation of the union in 1879. With it comes the fourth different format in five years with the shortening of the Swindale Shield (and the season as a whole) by three matches, but that also ratchets up the pressure for results to ensure that sides are amongst the seven that qualify for the showpiece Jubilee Cup starting on Queen’s Birthday weekend.
Premier Swindale Shield
The Premier season opens with a couple of new club rugby centurions. Last seasons Billy Wallace Best & Fairest winner Greg Foe makes his 100th start for Poneke (the club only counts starts as caps), while OBU’s long-serving Argentinian lock Agustin Escalona reaches 100 appearances for the Goats.
Another feature is the number of new, and in some cases returning, players in tomorrow’s Premier line-ups, as well as those in different colours from last year.
The only game between Jubilee Cup teams from last season is also the sole game south of the Terrace Tunnel, with Marist St Pats and Poneke taking to Evans Bay in the latest instalment of the Battle of Kilbirnie for the Horan-Millar Trophy.
MSP are looking to put to bed their poor finish to 2018 where after being upset by Avalon they won just twice over the last two months of the season; but both of those came against tomorrows opposition. They’ve added prop Tietie Tuimauga (from Johnsonville) and former NZ Warriors league player Charlie Gubb to their ranks and both start tomorrow along with another debutant in winger Faresa Tasele, and there’s also the return of Valentine Meachen after a season in the Manawatu and Bay of Plenty. They’ll also have the services of Billy Proctor tomorrow, with older both James and Vincent Sakaria named as co-captains for the season.
While Foe’s milestone is the highlight for Poneke, he’ll have some new faces around him in locking duo Nathan Smith and Jordan Benhaim and prop George Jacobs, while Soti Faamausili is back at Kilbirnie Park after several seasons with Johnsonville. In the backs there are debuts for centre Psalms Latu and winger Royce Tonumaipea, while they’ll count on the now-experienced Pakai Turia to guide them around from first-five.
The Horan-Millar Trophy honours former Marist player and later MSP coach Mick Horan and Poneke legend and later life member Ken Millar. The pair faced each other many times on the field, but were also good friends off of it before both passing away within months of each other in 1982. First played for in 2009, it is held by MSP after their 42-28 win across the road last year.
Norths get their defence of the Swindale Shield underway on home turf at Jerry Collins Stadium against Johnsonville. All the home side’s big-name offseason arrivals start with Losi Filipo at centre alongside another former Silverstream star in Kienan Higgins, while Bruce Kauika-Petersen and Luca Rees join skipper Parekura Lalaga in the loose trio. Another notable inclusion is Campbell Woodmass at halfback, back at the club after three seasons away.
The task the Hawks face is a daunting one, and should they come away with the spoils it would rank as one of the great upsets. They’ve set out their stall with a group that is largely intact from last year, with centre Samisoni Moceicakau and Japanese lock Shouji Takuma on debut; and the diminutive, but elusive Jacob Walmsley at fullback. There are three more potential debutants on debut along with Anthony Pettett who is back after a year at MSP, and Eamonn Carr who has overcome a bout with cancer to return to rugby.
There’s a pair of trophies on the line in this clash. One is the Bill Brien Challenge Trophy which Norths claimed from OBU in the last round of Jubilee Cup matches last season, with the other being the interclub Barlow Trophy which honours Bill Barlow who played for Johnsonville before moving on to Norths’ predecessor club Titahi Bay. Norths won this 36-13 at Helston last year.
There’re two other matches within a few minutes’ drive of Porirua Park. Heading south Tawa hosts Hardham Cup holders Petone at Lyndhurst Park with both sides looking to get off to a winning start. Tawa hand Premier debuts to last year’s Wellington U18 captain Hugo Plummer at lock and NZ Schools Barbarians winger Caleb Cavubati, with skipper and Wellington Lions halfback Kemara Hauiti-Parapara moving into the #10 jersey vacated by the now-overseas James So’oialo. It’s a strong bench too, with Tolu Fahamokioa, Hemi Fermanis, and Peniasi Tokakece all coming off the pine.
The Villagers will be desperate to avoid a repeat of last year where a series of late-game collapses cost them a Jubilee Cup place and will be gunning for a repeat of the resounding 36-9 win they enjoyed in this fixture last year. It’s a settled and experienced looking line-up with just one debutant in winger Mark Telea along with a return to the club for lock Eduan Struwig. There’s also the hope for a full return to fitness for the talismanic Mateaki Kafatolu, and he along with Tupou Sopoaga and hulking prop Kaliopasi Uluilakepa will be relied on up front.
Heading north to Ngati Toa Domain Paremata-Plimmerton and Oriental-Rongotai meet on Opening Day for the third consecutive year, with the Magpies having won those (both in Upper Hutt) by 30-13 and 48-3. With the softball fencing still in place, this game will be across the road on the renovated #3 ground. Pare-Plim have been forced into an impromptu rebuild with so many of last year’s side either overseas, injured, or departed, and have no fewer than six debutants. That includes the whole front row, plus former OBU hooker (and centurion) Stu Simonsen on the bench, so much will fall on the experience of captain James Corcoran, livewire openside Shane Hedges, and No8 Peni Taupau who spent the summer playing in Ireland.
Ories have just one debutant in their starting 15 in Japanese first-five Takumi Yashimoto, but also plenty of youth with the ex-Rongotai College three-quarters trio of Reuben Va’a, Malachai Unasa, and Josh Liua’ana, along with No8 William Heather who’ll try to fill the fill the shoes left by Luca Rees. The experience comes from skipper Tuakana Metuarau, Lions fullback Trent Renata, and seemingly ageless veteran Paula Kinikinilau, who aside from one appearance off the bench for the Magpies in last year’s Jubilee Cup hasn’t been in the black and white hoops at this level since the 2011 Jubilee Cup final triumph.
Across the Haywards Premier rugby returns to Maoribank Park for the first time since 2013 as the Upper Hutt Rams lock horns with Jubilee Cup winners Old Boys-University. The Rams have recruited impressively in the offseason with bumper numbers at training as they look to book a berth back on the main stage. There’s a Rams debut for hooker Nic Apikatoa, and Premier ones for winger Soli Malatai and centre Scott Svenson, returns to the club for Sam Wasley and Josh Brown, and returns to Premier rugby for halves pairing Hayden Schrijvers (injury) and Tynan Barrett (85s team). Wasley and Wellington 7’s Player of the Year Daniel Schrijvers are joined in the loose trio by Hurricanes allocated player Heiden Bedwell-Curtis.
The Goats – who won this encounter 52-31 at Nairnville Park last year – have named 12 players in their 22 that were involved in last year’s championship triumph. There’s a familiar look up front with centurion Escalona and the front-row of Finnbarr Kerr-Newell, Zeke Sopoaga, and Jonathan Fuimaono, but behind them three highly talented youngsters in loosies Shamus Hurley-Langston, Caleb Delany, and Reece Plumtree who all make their Premier debuts while Joe Hill is also back and takes the fullback jersey for tomorrow.
Down the valley Avalon and Wellington take to the Fraser Park artificial in the only matchup of last year’s Hardham Cup sides in the opening round. You could be forgiven in thinking that its back to 2004 for the Wolves with Thomas Waldrom at No8 and playing his first game for the club in over decade while older brother Scott is on the bench. There’s also a return for former captain Ryan Nepia after a stint overseas and a debut for Tajun Crosland-Misa at first-five, but otherwise it’s a familiar group including all three Ah Wong brothers and both Sefo and Chris Aumua.
No team is more changed than Wellington this season, who will have no fewer than 10 players making their Premier debuts tomorrow, plus former Pare-Plim player (and now Axemen CDO) James Stevenson-Wright. Add into the mix the returning Sam Gard’ner after a year off, and the Axemen represent a great unknown in the competition, especially If they’ve brought in quality and can gel quickly. At the very least they’ll be looking to repeat last years twin victories over the Wolves with a 28-19 win in the Swindale match at Hataitai, and a 22-20 result at this venue in the Hardham Cup.
Lastly, there’s one Hutt Valley derby with Hutt Old Boys Marist making the journey over the hill and to William Jones Park to face Wainuiomata. It’s the second consecutive Swindale Shield clash between the two, having met in the last round last year where HOBM prevailed 54-22 at the Hutt Rec. While Wainuiomata may have been described as a veteran group, there’s still an infusion of youth in tomorrow’s line-up with the well-regarded Sam Smith out of Wairarapa College starting at openside, while Josh Robertson-Weepu returns to the club after a period in the Bay of Plenty and finishing up last year at Petone. Winger Anthony Tamakehu is on debut, as are Saita Tuaoi and Wainuiomata High School standout Solomona Mapesone should the appear from the bench.
HOBM have a very settled look to them with many faces back from last years campaign. Even then they have a couple of new additions in former Petone player JG Bradbrook, and Hurricanes winger Salesi Rayasi who has been allocated to the Eagles. They also have Ben Power back after he ventured to Hawkes Bay towards the end of last season, and Nash Fiso-Vaelei will debut for his new club against his old when he comes on from the bench.
All Premier matches get underway at the normal time of 2.45pm
Premier Reserve Harper Lock Shield
Before the main games get underway, the curtains on the club season are lifted by the B-teams in the early 1pm games. As is the norm, all Harper Lock matches mirror the Premier clashes.
Marist St Pats claimed the Harper Lock/Ed Chaney Cup double last season, winning this trophy with a perfect record, but start out with a test against neighbours Poneke. Norths finished runners-up after dropping a virtual final to MSP in the final round last year, and their quest to go one better starts against last years round two Division 2 HD Morgan winners Johnsonville at Jerry Collins Stadium. Up the road at Ngati Toa last year’s HLS wooden-spooners Pare-Plim host Oriental-Rongotai, while at Lyndhurst Petone are the visitors to face Tawa.
The remaining three games are in the Hutt, with the Upper Hutt Rams taking on Old Boys-University at Maoribank, Avalon and Wellington take to Fraser Park, and Hutt Old Boys Marist head over the hill to face Wainuiomata.