Trisha Shetty (Editor)

Manawatu Rugby Union

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Founded  1886
2015  7th (Premiership)
Region  Hurricanes
League  Mitre 10 Cup
Manawatu Rugby Union httpsuploadwikimediaorgwikipediacommonsthu
Ground(s)  Central Energy Trust Arena (Capacity: 15,000)
Location  Manawatu District, New Zealand

Classic manawatu rugby

Manawatu Rugby Football Union (MRU) is the governing body of the sport of Rugby union in the Manawatu province. The Union is based in the city of Palmerston North though its catchment area includes players and clubs from nearby towns in the province, including Ashhurst, Feilding, Rongotea, Linton, Bulls, Pahiatua, Woodville and Dannevirke.


Founded in 1886, Manawatu is one of New Zealand's oldest rugby unions. In 1892, the MRU, amongst other Rugby Unions, was instrumental in the founding of the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU).

The Manawatu Rugby Union has over 5,000 players, making it the tenth largest union in New Zealand in terms of player numbers. In 2011, the union celebrated its 125th Jubilee.

Manawatu have traditionally played in a distinctive green and white tramline jersey, (although in 1996, a jersey including red was worn).

In 1997–98 Manawatu entered into an amalgamation with Hawke's Bay, as the Central Vikings, and wore orange and blue. See History.

The Union's home ground is Central Energy Trust Arena. It was host to two matches of the Rugby World Cup 2011.

On a wider note, Palmerston North is the home of the New Zealand Rugby Museum and also the Massey University Sport and Rugby Institute.

Manawatu Turbos

The Manawatu Turbos are the premier men's team in the Manawatu rugby province. In 2005, Manawatu were invited (with four other unions, reduced to 3 after an amalgamation) to play in the first division of a restructured National Provincial Championship, initially called (for sponsorship purposes) the Air New Zealand Cup (now known as the Mitre 10 Cup). As well as propelling Manawatu into professional rugby, it was also the first time since 1988 the top grade competition would feature a team from the province.

Manawatu have a reputation for fielding young, local talent. This has served mixed results however this approach has also uncovered new exciting players who have made Super Rugby level and also the All Blacks.

NPC New Format

The National Provincial Championship underwent a necessary format change to accommodate the limited window of availability of competition play before the 2011 Rugby World Cup, which divided the competition of 14 teams into two pools of 7. The Premiership (top 7) and Championship (bottom 7). As Manawatu finished 13th of 14 in 2010, the team were placed in the Championship in 2011.


In 2011, Manawatu went through the season unbeaten at home and a few losses, finishing the top of the Championship. The final at home against Hawke's Bay ended in a disappointing 30–35 loss, leaving Manawatu in the Championship and Hawke's Bay promoted to the Premiership for the 2012 season.


The 2012 season began with key players missing due to injury or other duties. Due to the departure of previous coach Dave Rennie (to the Chiefs Super Rugby side), Jason O'Halloran was promoted to head coach. Some highlights in a season that had its ups and downs included the first away win against North Harbour and a big win at home against Hawke's Bay. The mixed success and failure from results from the other teams in the Championship saw an unusual proposition. The last game against Southland saw an opportunity for either team to make the post-season of the Championship, provided other results were favourable. A late try to Southland ended Manawatu's season. Southland later made the semi-finals. Manawatu finished the season with 3 wins and 7 losses, 6th in the Championship. Subsequently remaining in the Championship for 2013.


Manawatu made the Premiership for 2015 by beating Hawkes Bay in the 2014 Championship final at home.


The Manawatu side finished bottom of the Premiership, therefore being relegated back to the Championship for 2016.

For Manawatu Turbos' previous Air New Zealand Cup seasons see:

  • 2008
  • 2009
  • Current squad

    The Turbos squad for the 2016 Mitre 10 Cup. On 10 August Manawatu signed Canadian international prop Jake Ilnicki.

    Denotes team captain, Denotes that a player is unavailable due to injury, Bold denotes player is internationally capped.

    Club Rugby

    There are 10 club teams which play at Senior A level. They are:

    ‡ High School Old Boys-Marist is an amalgamation of High School Old Boys and Marist Rugby Clubs

    † Feilding Old Boys-Oroua is an amalgamation of the Feilding Old Boys and Oroua Rugby Clubs

    × Dannevirke Sports Club was formerly affiliated with Hawke's Bay, however in 2007, it switched its affiliation to Manawatu.

    Other clubs include:

    ° Junior level only is played in Manawatu; Senior level has returned to Wairarapa-Bush Rugby Union

    Manawatu in Super Rugby

    Manawatu is in the Hurricanes catchment area, along with Wanganui, Hawke's Bay, Poverty Bay, East Coast, Horowhenua Kapiti, Wairarapa-Bush and Wellington.

    Current Manawatu players who have played for the Hurricanes:

  • Callum Gibbins
  • Chris Eves
  • Nehe Milner-Skudder
  • Otere Black
  • In recent times, Manawatu have also provided players to each of the other New Zealand Super Rugby franchises.

    Manawatu Players who have played for the Crusaders:

  • Michael Alaalatoa (current)
  • Manawatu Players who have played for the Highlanders:

  • Aaron Smith (current)
  • Jason Emery (current)
  • Maʻafu Fia
  • Johnny Leota
  • Hayden Triggs
  • Nick Crosswell
  • Doug Tietjens

  • Manawatu Players who have played for the Chiefs:

  • Aaron Cruden (current)
  • Michael Fitzgerald
  • Asaeli Tikoirotuma
  • Nick Crosswell
  • Manawatu players who have played for the Blues:

  • Hamish Northcott
  • In 2009, Central Energy Trust Arena was the venue for a Highlanders home game against the Bulls.

    Women's Rugby: Manawatu Cyclones

    Manawatu Cyclones is the women's representative team. The Cyclones wear the same green and white tramline jersey design as the men's team.

    Women's Provincial Championship

    In 2005, the team was promoted from the Second Division. In 2006, however, Manawatu did not win a game in the competition, which saw the team play against the likes of Auckland, Wellington and Otago. Manawatu drew with Hawke's Bay.

    In 2012, the Women's Provincial Championship format was a full round robin of six teams playing six rounds (each team with one bye round). The Cyclones began with a bye. Wins for the Cyclones were over Waikato, Wellington and Hawke's Bay. Unfortunately large losses to Otago and eventual finalists Auckland and Canterbury and missing crucial bonus points, meant the Cyclones did not make the post-season.

    Notable Cyclones:


  • Selica Winiata
  • Sarah Goss
  • Past

  • Farah Palmer
  • Rebecca Mahoney
  • NPC & Ranfurly Shield

    The union has produced several outstanding All Blacks and has achieved notable success on the national rugby stage.

    1970s: Glory Days and Shield Era

    The period from 1976 to 1983 saw Manawatu as a powerhouse in New Zealand rugby, achieving outstanding success. One of the great Ranfurly Shield reigns (1976–78) was followed by an historic National Provincial Championship (NPC) victory in 1980.

    Manawatu was also NPC Runner-up in 1976 and 1981. These lofty heights placed a heavy burden on Manawatu sides in the future, who failed to live up to this 'once in a generation' success of the Graham Hamer coached teams of 1976 to 1983.

    In the final Ranfurly Shield challenge of 1978 Manawatu were leading North Auckland (now called Northland) 10–9 with time up on the clock. A record Ranfurly Shield reign seemed possible, as the team headed into the 1979 season and beyond with one of the most powerful teams in the country, one that was notoriously tough to beat at 'The Oval', where all shield defences would be played.

    Inexplicably, the referee played 5–6 minutes of 'injury' time before awarding the visitors a penalty close to the posts. They duly kicked it and took the shield north. The referee then required a police escort off 'The Showgrounds Oval' as Manawatu fans showed their disgust and disappointment.

    This highly controversial moment was a bitter end to Manawatu's impressive run with the shield. To Manawatu supporters at the time, there was no clear or acceptable explanation for the referee's actions that day, and none have surfaced since.

    There were several conspiracy theories with the most notable involving the Auckland Rugby Union (ARU). They had a legitimate request for a challenge in 1977 controversially denied by the Manawatu union who argued that Auckland had had 'too much influence in shield rugby for too long'.

    The ARU would not be confident of a challenge in 1979 against Manawatu but would 'probably' get one against a victorious North Auckland. In the end Auckland got their wish; North Auckland won, and Auckland easily took the shield off their neighbours in the following season. Interestingly, they denied Manawatu a challenge in 1980.


    In 1980, its championship winning season, Manawatu had no less than eight All Blacks, an impressive number even by today's standards.

    They were: Mark Donaldson, Mark 'Cowboy' Shaw (who earned his living at various meat works around the city), Geoff Old, Frank Oliver, Gary Knight, Doug Rollerson, Lachie Cameron and an 18-year-old PNBHS schoolboy named Craig Wickes (a substitute in the final minutes against Fiji at Eden Park).

    Manawatu remained one of the most feared and powerful unions in the country until the 1984 season when standards slipped considerably. So respected were Manawatu that the great Canterbury Ranfurly Shield team of 1983 put Manawatu last on their list of challengers for that season. Auckland and Wellington were considered easier options, which is hard to fathom these days.

    In 1985, Manawatu celebrated a centenary of club competition and in 1986, the union's centenary.

    In 1988, the union was relegated to the second division for the first time and spent a lengthy time playing against other struggling unions.

    Once an attractive option in its glory days for notable players such as Frank Oliver, Manawatu in the second division was reduced to a 'feeder' role, effectively developing players for other unions.


    In 1996 Manawatu and Hawke's Bay merged their teams to form the Central Vikings Rugby Union. It was an attempt to elevate the unions back to the then first division. Players such as Mark Allen, Christian Cullen, Mark Ranby, Stephen Bachop and Roger Randle featured in the team. The 1997 season saw Central finish overall second with 6 wins, 2 losses and into the semi-finals. In the semi-final, the Vikings avenged their loss to Bay of Plenty in round robin play to face Northland in the final. Northland won the final 63–10. Northland were thus promoted to the First Division. However, had the Vikings won, they would not have been eligible to be promoted.

    1998 saw a repeat of form for the Vikings who went unbeaten in the season. They subsequently won the final against Bay of Plenty and were promoted to First Division. However, due to financial issues, the merger split back to Manawatu and Hawke's Bay. Manawatu returned in 1999 to the second division set back by the financial issues from the Central Vikings days.


    Manawatu began the new millennium firmly fixed in the second tier competition.

    In 2005, Manawatu fell to a woeful 6–109 defeat by the touring British and Irish Lions at Palmerston North. The outlook for the future of rugby in Manawatu at the time, was not promising. However, in the same year, a rugby lifeline was handed to Manawatu with the invitation to return to the top level in a revamped NPC.

    The promotion to the top level in 2006 provided hope for greater things to Manawatu rugby and has restored respect and dignity to the green and white jersey. Crowd support for the new venture has been among the highest of all unions in the competition. Although recent results suggest the union has a long way to go to get back to the glory days it once enjoyed, the selection of Aaron Cruden in 2010 for the All Blacks showed the country, supporters and local aspiring players they do not need to move elsewhere to chase the All Black dream. He was the first All Black chosen whilst playing for the union since Christian Cullen in 1996. In 2012, Cruden was joined by Turbos teammate, Aaron Smith. The addition of Smith meant for the first time since 1986, two All Blacks came from Manawatu. Lately, more players from Manawatu have been selected for Super Rugby teams.


    Fans of Manawatu rugby are known throughout the rugby community in New Zealand for their habit of wearing plastic garden buckets cut to shape over their heads during matches. As such, fans of the provincial side have picked up the self-named nickname of "Bucketheads".

    "Go, Go Manawatu!" as the huge sign would read, lofted high above the Palmerston North Showgrounds Oval by a crane, summed up the optimism and confidence that existed during the heyday of Manawatu rugby.

    Match highlights over the years

  • Beating Otago, Auckland, Wellington and Canterbury, amongst other unions, between the years of 1976 to 1983.
  • Beating Auckland 12–10 at Eden Park in 1976 to win the coveted Log 'o Wood for the first time, followed by a homecoming parade through the city streets. Doug Rollerson's dropped goal secured the famous victory for Manawatu.
  • With prop Kent Lambert sent-off, Manawatu were reduced to 14-men in their defence of the Ranfurly Shield against Counties side in 1977. However, the green and whites rallied to record a victory, 15–10. A last minute try prevented the confident Counties side from taking the Shield back to Pukekohe for the first time.
  • A 20–10 win over Australia in 1978.
  • One of Manawatu's most memorable matches was the 1981 encounter against South Africa. Manawatu led 9–4 at halftime and with minutes to go the score was 19–19. The clash between the national champions and the 'test' strength Springboks was headed for a climax worthy of such an event. In the final analysis, Naas Botha was the difference between the two sides. In the final minutes he scored a long range penalty, a dropped goal and a sideline conversion to lead the 'Boks home to a flattering 31–19 victory. The Manawatu v Springbok game was the first to witness the infamous police riot squads patrolling the streets as a pre-emptive measure, as opposed to them just turning up once trouble started. Either way, both the police and the public/protesters were generally well behaved that day, despite the barbed wire, the bitterness, and the repressive police presence.
  • Lee Stensness starred in a 58–24 win over Ireland in 1992.
  • In 2011, a resurgent Manawatu Turbos side defeated the Wellington Lions 31–25 in Wellington. It was Manawatu's first competition win over Wellington in the capital, after 124 years of trying.
  • Also in 2011, Manawatu Turbos scored 54 points against Waikato team at Arena Manawatu. The Turbos led 35–17 at halftime, eventually winning 54–20. This kept the Turbos unbeaten at home for the season.
  • In 2012, Manawatu scored its first victory away to North Harbour. The win at home against Hawke's Bay made Manawatu one of the few Championship teams to beat a Premiership team.
  • Theme Songs

    Manawatu had two theme songs during their 'glory' years, which were played on radio '2ZA' in the days leading up to the big games on Saturday. They were:

  • A Ranfurly Shield theme song 1976–78 (sung to the melody of the American civil war song When Johnny Comes Marching Home): "We're Manawatu, we've got the shield huh rah, huh rah!..."
  • A later song (early 1980s) was used prior to NPC and Ranfurly Shield challenges: "We'll pass the ball and run it, green and white! And let them feel the power of country might!..."
  • A much earlier song, On The Ball, was sung at Manawatu games during its foundation years and beyond. According to Manawatu rugby historian, Clive Akers, it was composed in Palmerston North by team captain Ted Secker and was 'made famous by the 1888 Native team that toured Britain'. Akers said further 'it would rate as Manawatu's greatest contribution to the rugby world'. Its chorus went: "On the Ball! On the Ball! On the Ball! Thro' scrummage, three-quarters and all, sticking together we keep on the leather, and shout as we go, On the Ball!"
  • Manawatu All Blacks

    In New Zealand, to be selected to the All Blacks is the pinnacle of achievement. In its 126-year history, Manawatu have produced many players who have been selected for the national team.

    Bold = indicates current player

    ♦ = indicates a club recently amalgamated with another

    ♥ = indicates a club no longer in the Manawatu Rugby Union

    ♣ = a club no longer extant

    Other distinguished current and former players

  • Murray Ball - Footrot Flats creator played against the 1959 Lions and French in 1961. Opposed tour to SA and protested in 1981 at Gisborne game
  • Kurt Baker – moved to Taranaki; played Super Rugby for Highlanders.
  • Josh Bradnock – Foundation Turbo – Fearless Openside Flanker and Captain of Manawatu Turbos 60+ Games, Varsity legend, Hurricanes player who would have played many Super games if career was not lost to multiple tendon injuries.
  • Hugh Blair – 1970s winger, Ranfurly Shield hero and crowd favourite, from the Varsity Club of Massey University. Instantly recoqnisable with his long blond hair, headband and beard. Went on to lecture at Auckland University.
  • Francisco Bosch (rugby union) – (2006–08) Foundation Turbo. Represented Argentina for tests vs Chile, Japan, Samoa and South Africa in 2004–05. Also a former Sevens player for Argentina.
  • Denis Clare – hooker during the Ranfurly Shield and National Championship winning era.
  • Nick Crosswell – (2006–14) Foundation Turbo; Captain (2009–13); played Super Rugby for Chiefs (2013–15) having also played previously for Highlanders.
  • Ma'afu Fia (2009–15 ) former Turbo; played Super Rugby for Highlanders.
  • Michael FitzGerald (2010–14) Turbo; played Super Rugby for Chiefs
  • Alan Innes – from the early Hamer years.
  • Andrew MacMaster – Represented the NZ Combined Services. An exciting winger who transferred to Manawatu's Ohakea Air Force Base in 1984. Prior to this he starred for Canterbury during their memorable Ranfurly Shield era (1982–85).
  • Hadleigh Parkes (2010). Relocated to Auckland; played Super Rugby for Southern Kings (South Africa) in 2013.
  • Terry Sole – Loose forward during the early, and most successful, Hamer years.
  • Alex Tatana – Midfielder – Hamer years, early to mid-1980s.
  • Andre Taylor – Fullback/wing – Former Turbo, moved to Taranaki; played Super Rugby for Hurricanes.
  • Hayden Triggs – Lock – Has represented the Māori All Blacks. He played Super Rugby for the Hurricanes and Highlanders. He played in Japan before returning to the Blues and North Harbour. 50+ Games for Manawatu.
  • Ian Wood – Midfielder who came close to All Black selection in 1985–86. Considered unlucky not to have been selected for cancelled 1985 tour of South Africa and subsequent replacement tour to Argentina.
  • Coaches

  • Mark Donaldson – was coach of the impressive young side of the early 1990s. A team which promised so much to a union desperate for a return to prominence on the national stage.
  • Graham Hamer – coached the famous Ranfurly Shield and National Championship winning teams of the 1970s and 80s.
  • Frank Oliver – 1995–96.
  • Dave Rennie (2005–11) Foundation Manawatu Turbos coach. Left at the end of 2011 season to become 2012 coach of Chiefs. The Chiefs subsequently won back-to-back Super Rugby titles in 2012 and 2013.
  • Jason O'Halloran (2011–2015). Assistant and successor of Dave Rennie. Coach of the ITM Cup Championship winning team of 2014 leading to promotion to the ITM Cup Premiership in 2015. Will leave at end of the season.
  • Jeremy Cotter (2016– ) Assistant to Jason O'Halloran. Promoted to the Head Coach role. Brother of current Scotland coach, Vern Cotter.
  • References

    Manawatu Rugby Union Wikipedia