The Wellington club rugby championship has been shared nine times in its history. Here is a summary of those seasons.
The inaugural WRFU Senior Championship was contested in 1880 between Wellington and Athletic, who played in the city division, and Greytown, Masterton and Carterton, who played in the Wairarapa division. Athletic were the first winners, there were “No Contests” in 1881 and Athletic won again in 1882. The introduction of Poneke the next season formed a six-team competition in one division. Wellington and Greytown finished all square at the end of 1883. Key players in each side included Colonel George Campbell, the founder of the Athletic club, and the Udy brothers for Greytown, later to have the street named after that that houses Petone’s home ground and clubrooms. Later in September, Wellington beat Auckland in a spiteful clash to win the “championship of the colony.” The Wairarapa clubs played in the Wellington competitions until 1886 when they formed their own union.
Led by Arthur ‘Ranji’ Wilson, Athletic were raging hot favourites heading in to the season, having won outright between 1911-13 in the former club’s golden period. Petone and Poneke were expected to offer stiff challenges, but it was the Wellington Axemen who emerged as a serious contender. Athletic were upset by University mid-season, while Wellington kept pace and then drew level when Oriental also defeated the champions and Wellington defeated University 9-5 on the same weekend. This transpired to be the final week of the season with the outbreak of war on 4 August and a call to arms for the province’s young men. The Great War was to decimate all clubs, the Axemen contributing 279 of its members to the war effort and 54 of those losing their lives. The competition continued in an abbreviated format throughout the war, mostly as an U20 championship, Athletic (1915), Petone (1916 and 1917) and Poneke (1918) winning these seasons.
St Pat’s Old Boys and Marist – later to merge and form Marist St Pat’s – were two of the leading teams of the period. The 1949 championship was Marist’s to win with two rounds to play, after they took the outright lead by beating Poneke 8-3 and St Pat’s Old Boys lowered Petone 24-16. After this weekend, Marist were on 21 points and St Pat’s Old Boys and Petone equal second on 20 (two points for a win). But the very next week St Pat’s Old Boys toppled Marist 20-6 in a second round feature match and Petone overcame WCOB 6-3 to see St Pat’s Old Boys and Petone leapfrog Marist. They both won their last games and shared the 1949 Jubilee Cup. Reports of the day noted that St Pat’s Old Boys had a hard-working and “lion-hearted” forward pack with lock Harry Avery and prop Des O’Donnell (one Test for the All Blacks in September 1949) big-game players and Petone brought “exciting” back play to the competition, with first five-eighth Jackie Dougan and fullback and kicker Ray Morgan key amongst them.
For much of the season it looked like it would be a two-horse race for the Jubilee Cup between Marist and Onslow. They had opened up a 4-point [two-game] lead on the rest of the field after nine weeks of 16. Onslow then stuttered over two consecutive weekends and suddenly Marist was in the box seat. Onslow lost 8-12 to University (who were to finish third) and then drew with already Hardham Cup-bound Hutt 9-9. Marist diffused Petone 11-3 in the opening weekend of championship play, but the very next week they lost 16-20 to University. Thus Marist clung to a two-point lead over Onslow. It came down to a “virtual final” at Athletic Park on the last day of the season, with Marist needing to win to capture the Jubilee Cup outright and Onslow needing to win to tie. Onslow prop Jim Kinvig, who had recently landed a monster 63m penalty on the same ground, landed three penalties and a late converted try was scored giving Onslow a 14-0 win. The Onslow Brass Band struck up and a memorable season was celebrated.
At the end of the season Marist supporters were celebrating their third consecutive Jubilee Cup win, while University’s were left thinking they could have won the Jubilee Cup outright if five of their best players hadn't been taken out of their side to play for Wellington in a Ranfurly Shield challenge against Taranaki late in the season. Missing Williment, Uttley, Millar, Hermansson and Grant, University lost 3-6 to WCOB, which they argued cost them the outright title win. Nevertheless, Marist were the only team to have beaten a [full strength] University in the first round, winning 16-11 in front of a 9,000-strong Athletic Park crowd. The two teams were level-pegging and a full 10 points clear of the field when they met again in the second round. This time the crowd was 13,000 and University won 16-6. The understrength side then lost to WCOB and the Jubilee Cup was back to all square. Fullback Mick Wiliment (University) and hooker and captain Mick Horan (Marist) were leading players for their respective sides.
This was the first time the Jubilee Cup was shared in the modern Swindale Shield era, and Wellington and Athletic had vastly contrasting first rounds. Wellington was a Swindale Shield contender throughout and shared the first round silverware with five-time defending champions Petone. A key match in the first round was Wellington and Petone’s 13-13 draw on Anzac Day. Athletic won seven and lost six 13 first round games and only made the “top six” for the Jubilee Cup round on points differential ahead of Onslow who they would merge with to help form Western Suburbs a decade later. Athletic lowered Petone 20-19 and Wellington 10-4 in two significant wins in the first three weeks of the Jubilee Cup. Wellington, Athletic and Petone then formed a three-way tie heading into the closing round. Athletic defeated University 19-7, to put one hand on the Jubilee Cup and Wellington pipped Petone 12-9 to join them.
A satisfying finish to his career for Graham Williams (Wellington) and a dramatic finish to the Jubilee Cup. Wellington scraped into the ‘top 8’, while MSP finished second to Athletic in the first round Swindale Shield. These three clubs would contest a tight and tense Jubilee Cup round. After three weeks three teams were all unbeaten and level pegging (two points for a win, no bonus points). Fireworks in week four when Athletic lost to Petone 14-27 and Wellington lost to Poneke 13-21 in a “shock defeat” – leaving MSP alone at the top. MSP’s sole lead was short-lived, the very next Saturday the Axemen beat them 12-0 – restoring the three-way tie. The penultimate round saw Wellington topple Athletic 9-7 and MSP beat Poneke – seeing Athletic drop out of the race and leaving Wellington and MSP first equal. In the early game at Athletic Park on the final afternoon Wellington accounted for struggling Onslow 20-3. In the main game MSP trailed Athletic 9-12 with time almost up, before pivot Tu Wylie silenced the joint Athletic and Wellington opposition supporters and flashed over to score and Murray Tocker converted to give them a 15-12 win and a share of the championship. This was MSP’s maiden Jubilee Cup win.
A dramatic finish to the Swindale Shield, with Wellington, Petone and Hutt Valley Marist in a three-way tie on 18 points with a week to play (still two points for a win, no bonus points). Both Petone (3-3 with Poneke) and Hutt Valley Marist (10-10 with University) drew and Wellington defeated Wainuiomata (29-13) on their Old Timers’ Day to hand the Axemen the first round spoils outright. In a tight race, just 6 competition points separate the ‘top 8’ qualifying teams. Wellington and Petone started the Jubilee Cup in winning form. Following a washed out second round that was rescheduled to a Wednesday, Petone lost 6-13 to Hutt Valley Marist giving Wellington the jump. The two teams met for what was the decider in the penultimate round, a dominant scrum and two tries to wing Mike Clamp giving Petone a victory over Wellington who had Murray Mexted at No.8 returning from a stint in South Africa. Both won again in the last round and split the spoils. For the Axemen it was 100 seasons after their first championship in 1883 (see above), while for Petone it was their 32nd win.
Marist St Pat’s played clinical rugby and employed the best defence in the competition to win the first round Swindale Shield with a 10-1 record, their only loss being to OBU in the season opener. 2004 and 2006 Jubilee Cup champions Norths had an exciting roster and had been installed as pre-season favourites. They dropped three first round matches and qualified second for the championship round. First five-eighth Fa’atonu Fili kicked clutch penalties as MSP beat Norths 25-22 in their April clash. MSP maintained their consistent form throughout the Jubilee Cup round-robin, while Norths were still up and down and MSP won their return clash 25-17 in round four. By beating OBU 26-0, MSP qualified for a home semi-final at Evans Bay Park with a week to spare, while at the same time Norths lost to Petone 9-17 to lose home advantage. Fili kicked 14 points in MSP’s 19-5 playoff win over Poneke, while fullback Buxton Popoalii scored two tries to see his side win 18-5 at Petone. Finals day was bitterly cold and it snowed on the hills. MSP ran hot early, halfback Peter Sciascia scoring under the poles to give them a 10-0 halftime lead. Norths got in the game with a try to wing Francis Seumanutafa and then with only minutes to play reserve hooker Sio Thomas scored out-wide, locking it up at 10-10. There was no more scoring, no provision for extra time (since amended) and the silverware was shared for the last time.