Manawatu Rugby Union

Manawatu Rugby Union
Manawatu Rugby Union
Nickname(s) Turbos
Founded 1886
Ground(s) FMG Stadium (Capacity: 18,000)
Chairman New Zealand Tony Murphy
Coach(es) New Zealand Dave Rennie
League(s) ITM Cup
2011 Runner-up; 1st (Championship Division round robin)
1st kit
2nd kit

Manawatu Rugby Union (MRU) is the governing body of the sport of Rugby union in the Manawatu rugby province. The Union is based in the city of Palmerston North but has a catchment area from nearby towns in the province, including Feilding, Rongotea, Linton, Bulls, Pahiatua, Dannevirke and Woodville.

Founded in 1886, the Manawatu Rugby Union is one of New Zealand's oldest and a founding union of the NZRFU (1892). The Manawatu Rugby Union has over 5,000 players, making it the tenth largest union in New Zealand in terms of player numbers.[1] In 2011, the union celebrates 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 1997–1998 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 FMG Stadium, which has been formerly known as the Palmerston North Showgrounds and Arena One. It will host two matches of the Rugby World Cup 2011 and will be known as Arena Manawatu for the duration.

Palmerston North is the home of the New Zealand Rugby Museum[2] and also the Massey University Sport and Rugby Institute.[3]


Representative Rugby

Manawatu has a proud history in representative rugby. See History.

In 2005, Manawatu were promoted, as one of the four new unions, to play in the inaugural Air New Zealand Cup in 2006. It was the first time since 1988 that Manawatu had played in the top grade for New Zealand Rugby.

Manawatu in Super Rugby

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

Palmerston North was the host of the first professional Super Rugby match between the Hurricanes and the Blues.

Although Manawatu is within the Hurricanes catchment area, it has been uncommon lately for Manawatu players to feature in the squads. With the exception of Aaron Cruden (who is heading to the Chiefs in 2012), there were no other Manawatu players in the Hurricanes squad.

Manawatu have provided a few players to the Highlanders. In 2009, FMG Stadium was the venue for a Highlanders home game vs the Bulls from Northern Transvaal.

ITM Cup (formerly Air New Zealand Cup)

The ITM Cup underwent a necessary format change to accommodate the limited window of availability of competition play before the Rugby World Cup, which divided the competition of 14 team into two pools of 7. The Premiership (Top 7) and Championship (Bottom 7). There was no change to the other competition, the Heartland Championship.

In 2010, Manawatu finished 13th of 14. Therefore in 2011, Manawatu were placed in the Championship. As at 27 July 2011, Manawatu's record is Win 2, Loss 1. The wins were against two teams Manawatu have recently struggled against: neighbours, Hawke's Bay and Northland. The latter in 2010 having run 9 tries past Manawatu. Both wins also securing the four try bonus point and the loss (vs Counties Manukau) securing a bonus point also. The points haul of 11 leaves after Round Three, Manawatu at the top of the Championship table.

For Manawatu Turbos' previous Air NZ/ITM Cup seasons see:

Current Squad

Player Country Position
Grant Polson New Zealand New Zealand Prop (1 or 3)
Rob Foreman New Zealand New Zealand Hooker (2)
Ma'afu Fia Tonga Tonga Prop (1 or 3)
Reece Robinson New Zealand New Zealand Lock (4 or 5)
Michael Fitzgerald New Zealand New Zealand Lock (4 or 5)
Callum Gibbins New Zealand New Zealand Flanker (6 or 7)
Jacob Gopperth Papua New Guinea Papua New Guniea Flanker (6 or 7)
Nick Crosswell New Zealand New Zealand Blindside Flanker/No. 8 (6/8)
Hamish Gosling New Zealand New Zealand No. 8 (8)
Aaron Smith New Zealand New Zealand Halfback/Scrumhalf(9)
Aaron Cruden New Zealand New Zealand First five-eighth/Fly half (10)
Tomasi Cama New Zealand New Zealand Wing (11 or 14)
Francis Bryant New Zealand New Zealand Second Five-Eighth (12)
Johnny Leota Samoa Samoa Centre (13)
Asaeli Tikoirotuma New Zealand New Zealand Wing (11 or 14)
Nehe Milner-Skudder New Zealand New Zealand Fullback (15)
Bryn Templeman New Zealand New Zealand
Jared Brock New Zealand New Zealand
James Oliver New Zealand New Zealand
Isaac Thompson New Zealand New Zealand
David Te Moana New Zealand New Zealand
Lewis Marshall New Zealand New Zealand
Dan Kelly Australia Australia
Casey Stone New Zealand New Zealand
Terry Tietjens New Zealand New Zealand
Craig Clare New Zealand New Zealand
Peni Kaufusi Tonga Tonga
Doug Tietjens New Zealand New Zealand
Mitchell Crosswell New Zealand New Zealand
Karl Bryson New Zealand New Zealand

Club Rugby

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

Club Name Colours
‡ High School Old Boys-Marist (OBM) Black, White & Green hoops
College Old Boys (COB) White, Maroon, Gold & Black
Freyberg Blue & Yellow hoops
Kia Toa Light Blue & Dark Blue
Varsity Sky Blue
Feilding (Feilding Yellows) Yellow & Black
† Feilding Old Boys-Oroua Black, White, Red & Blue
Dannevirke Sports Club Black and Gold
Linton Army RFC, from Linton Military Camp Red & Black
Te Kawau RFC Emerald Green & Black

‡ 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

Other clubs include:

  • Ashhurst-Pohangina
  • Bunnythorpe
  • Bulls
  • Halcombe
  • Bush

Women's Rugby: Manawatu Cyclones

Manawatu has a women's rugby team, known as the Manawatu Cyclones, which in recent times has been quite successful. 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 managed a draw with Hawke's Bay. Manawatu wear the same jersey strip as the men's team.

Notable players in the Women's team:

  • Justina Keown
  • Anna Richards


NPC & Ranfurly Shield

This proud union, which at its best combines bullocking forwards from the outlying country areas, with the speedy backs from the Varsity club, has produced several outstanding All Blacks and has achieved notable success on the national rugby stage.

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 (1976–1978) 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 dubious 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 obvious 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.

Nevertheless 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 18-year-old PNBHS schoolboy 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 1988 the union was relegated to the second division for the first time. They stayed in this second tier until 2006 when they were resurrected in the top flight of NZ rugby, as the Manawatu Turbos, in the revamped and expanded NPC.

However, it is hard not to think that the glory days of the Manawatu union are well behind it. This assumption is supported by the woeful 109–6 defeat by the British and Irish Lions at Palmerston North in 2005. The 2009 Air New Zealand Cup provided hope to Manawatu and its supporters that the struggling union might be returning to winning ways. The team had its most successful season in provincial rugby since the 2006 revamp. It beat Otago, North Harbour, Southland and Counties-Manukau, and had narrow losses to Auckland (away), Hawkes-Bay, Waikato and Bay of Plenty.

In May 2010, Manawatu player Aaron Cruden was selected for the All Blacks. He was the first All Black chosen whilst playing for the union since Christian Cullen in 1996.[4]

"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. The current supporters' group The Bucketheads captures the spirit of the new generation of Manawatu fans.

Match highlights

  • With prop Kent Lambert sent-off, Manawatu were reduced to 14-men in their defence of the Ranfurly Shield against the favoured Counties side in 1977. However, the green and whites rallied to record a famous 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.
  • 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.
  • Consistently dishing out 'rugby lessons' to the likes of Otago, Auckland, Wellington and Canterbury, amongst other unions, between the years of 1976 to 1983.
  • 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.

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 1976–1978 (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 sang 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!" In 2008, upon hearing the Manawatu supporters group The Bucketheads were looking for songs to sing from the stands he suggested they look no further than this one.[5]

Manawatu players who have represented the All Blacks

[6] [7] [8]

  • Mark "Bull" Allen (All Black 1993–1997) – A 'cult hero' and loosehead prop, he is more associated with his home province of Taranaki, from where he made his All Black debut. However, in 1997 he moved to Manawatu, where he captained the Manawatu/Hawkes Bay Central Vikings. It was from this position that he played his one and only test match as a starting player (against England at Twickenham – his last test).
  • Keith Bagley (All Black 1953–1954) – From Kia Toa club, retired at aged 23 to his family farm.
  • Robert (Bob) Burgess (All Black 1971–1973) – Represented Massey University and debuted for the All Blacks against the 1971 Lions. He was a stand out player in this series before being injured in the 3rd test which ended his season. Toured Britain in 1972/73 before retiring in 1973. An anti-apartheid activist, Burgess declined consideration for the 1970 tour to South Africa and campaigned against the 1981 tour by the Springboks.
  • John Callesen (All Black 1974–1976) – Second rower whose career was ended by back problems. Went back to the farm after excelling for both Manawatu and the All Blacks.
  • Lachlan (Lachie) Cameron (All Black 1979–81) – An exciting midfielder from the Varsity club. In 1981 he played in the dramatic 3rd Test versus the Springboks at Eden Park.
  • Phonse Carroll (All Black 1920) – A dairy farmer, he played his first game of rugby at aged 22 in 1917. Toured Australia in 1920. Politically 'left of centre' he was a 'conscientious objector' during World War One. Switched codes to Rugby league in 1925 and represented the Kiwis.
  • Sam Cockroft (All Black 1893).
  • Aaron Cruden (All Black 2010–present) – First Five-Eight, made his All Black debut on 10 June 2010 against Ireland in New Plymouth. Cancer survivor and son of former Manawatu forward Stu Cruden.[9]
  • Christian Cullen (All Black 1996–2002) – One of world rugby's most talented and entertaining fullbacks of any era. Was a Wellingtonian for most of his All Black career. Shot to stardom at the 1996 Hong Kong Sevens.
  • Chresten Davis (All Black 1996).
  • Mark Donaldson (All Black 1977–1981) – "Bullet", an inspiration to Manawatu rugby. Later coached an exciting and youthful Manawatu side in the early-90s.
  • Jason Eaton (All Black 2005–06) – Moved to Taranaki before making All Black debut.
  • Kevin Eveleigh (All Black 1974–1977) – "Hayburner", Voted Rugby News' 'All Black player of the tour', to South Africa, 1976.
  • Brian Finlay (All Black 1959) – Debuted at aged 31. His only test against the 1959 Lions, the famous 1st test where Don Clarke's six penalty goals gave New Zealand a 18–17 win. Finlay was badly injured early but returned to the field after treatment. Due to injury was not considered for the remainder of the series.
  • Jack Finlay (All Black 1946) – World War Two shortened his potential All Black career.
  • Mark Finlay (All Black 1984) – ex PNBHS 1st XV star who toured Fiji.
  • Stu Freebairn (All Black 1953–1954) – From Fielding Agricultural High School.
  • Ken Granger (All Black 1976) – Manawatu stalwart who retired after a record 128 games for the province. An outstanding 1976 season earned him a winger's position on the end of year tour to Argentina. He was given the nickname 'Gringo' on this tour.
  • Perry Harris (All Black 1976) – Te Kawau Prop who was called into the injury hit All Black tour party in South Africa, two days after Manawatu's historic Ranfurly Shield win at Eden Park, in 1976. Played the 3rd test of that tour.
  • Bruce Hemara (All Black 1985) – Manawatu player of the year 1983, NZ Maori representative. With All Black hooking incumbent, Andy Dalton, unavailable for the All Blacks 'tour' to South Africa in 1985, Hemara was his natural replacement. With the tour cancelled he went on the makeshift tour to Argentina instead.
  • Jason Hewett (All Black 1991) – Played for Manawatu from 1988 to 1990 while a student at Massey University. He was recruited into the Auckland NPC side midway through 1990. He made his All Black debut at the 1991 World Cup.
  • Ron Horsley (All Black 1960–1964) – Made his All Black debut playing for Wellington. The imposing lock forward captained Manawatu in 1962 before coaching Kia Toa.
  • Gary Knight (All Black 1977–1986) – "Axle". The lyric "Let them feel the power of country might" was surely written with him in mind. Famously hit by a flour bomb, dropped by a protest aircraft, vs South Africa at Eden Park in 1981.
  • Kent Lambert (All Black 1972–1977) – Went to Penrith Panthers in the NSWRL, 1978. Was one of the first All Blacks to publicly complain about the financial burden of amateur rugby. Was a truck driver during his playing days. Injury cut short his league career.
  • Arthur Law (All Black 1925) – A farmer, he was a star for the PNBHS 1st XV for several seasons.
  • John Loveday (All Black 1978). A chiropractor by trade, he ironically suffered from a 'bad back' which limited his appearances on his one and only All Black tour: the victorious Grand Slam of 1978. He was a pivotal member of the Ranfurly Shield side in the 1970s but in 1979 he retired from rugby to concentrate on his medical career.
  • Rod McKenzie (All Black 1934–1938).
  • Alex (Paddy) McMinn (All Black 1904) – His Irish father was sent out to New Zealand by a London newspaper to cover the 'Maori wars' in Taranaki in 1963 and later established the Manawatu Evening Standard. Paddy's younger brother 'Archie' was also an All Black.
  • Archibald (Archie) McMinn (All Black 1903–1905) – An imposing line-out specialist with the pace of a wing three-quarter. A fishmonger who died in 1919 aged 38.
  • John Mowlem (All Black 1893).
  • Mick O'Callaghan (All Black 1968) – A winger and crowd favourite, played for Manawatu until the 1979 season.
  • Geoff Old (All Black 1980–1983) – A police officer, he was on active duty during the 1981 Springbok tour together with playing in the series deciding test at Eden Park, won 25–22 by the All Blacks.
  • Frank Oliver (All Black 1976–1981) – A welcome recruit from Southland in 1979, one year after being a member of the All Blacks historic Grand Slam winning tour of the UK. An integral part of the 1980 NPC winning side. Selected on the centenary tour of Wales in late 1980.
  • Mark Ranby (All Black 2001).
  • Doug Rollerson (All Black 1976–1981) – Shocked NZ rugby when he announced he was leaving for the North Sydney Bears in the NSWRL for the 1982 season. In 1980 he was player of the season in Manawatu's championship winning team and in the same year he starred on the All Blacks centenary tour to Wales. His dropped goal, which creaked over the bar against the Springboks in the dramatic 3rd Test in 1981, helped the All Blacks win this memorable series. His subsequent professional rugby league career was considered unsuccessful, persistent injuries didn't help.
  • Kevin Schuler (All Black 1989–1995).
  • Mark Shaw (All Black 1980–1986) – "Cowboy", A meat worker by trade; Longburn Freezing Works. Would cycle home along Palmerston North's College Street on his ten-speed bike, while joking with the kids running alongside him (one of which was the author). Remembered fondly as a hero and a genuine inspiration to all Manawatu rugby fans.
  • Graham Shannon (All Black 1893).
  • Lee Stensness (All Black 1993–1997) – Played his last game for Manawatu in 1992, before moving to Auckland. The following year he made a fine All Black debut, in the deciding test against the Lions at Eden Park, which the All Blacks won 30–13. Stensness looked to have a long and distinguished career in the number 12 jersey for the All Blacks ahead of him. However, injury and loss of form meant he played just eight tests.
  • Sam Strahan (All Black 1967–1973) – Imposing second rower, formed a formidable combination with John Calleson.
  • Murray Watts (All Black 1979–1980) – A Manawatu junior All Black who moved back to Taranaki before becoming an All Black.
  • Dion Waller (All Black 2001) – Played the 1997 and 1998 seasons with Manawatu and the Central Vikings before becoming an All Black with Wellington.
  • Craig Wickes (All Black 1980) – At aged 18 years, 196 days this schoolboy was the 2nd youngest All Black ever, behind 17 year old Lui Paewai in 1923. A series of knee injuries, sustained in 1981, destroyed his chance of playing for the All Blacks again and limited his provincial and club rugby future as well.

Other distinguished players:

  • 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 – Represented Argentina for tests vs Chile, Japan, Samoa and South Africa in 2004–2005. Also a former Sevens player for Argentina. He played for Manawatu from 2006–2008.
  • Justin Keown – Hurricanes 2007–present Turbos Captain – 60+ Games for Manawatu.
  • Denis Clare – outstanding hooker during the Ranfurly Shield and National Championship winning era.
  • 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 (1982–1985).
  • Terry Sole – Uncompromising loose forward during the early, and most successful, Hamer years.
  • Alex Tatana – Exciting Midfielder – Hamer years- Early to mid-1980s.
  • Hayden Triggs – Hurricanes/ Highlanders Super 14 player. 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 the 1985 tour of South Africa and subsequent replacement tour to Argentina.


  • 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 Manawatu Turbos – 2005 to 2011.

See also


External links

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