Its full noise across the province’s fields as it’s the first weekend where all club grades are in action, so there will be plenty of rugby to slake the thirst of even the most rabid fans.
Tomorrow’s Swindale Shield round sees a number of professional players pulling on club jerseys, while it’s also the first of the club Old Timers Days with festivities on at both Tawa and Wainuiomata.
With respect to the other 12 teams, the biggest show in town this weekend is at the Petone Rec where Petone and Hutt Old Boys Marist clash. Not only is there Wellington’s longest-standing interclub trophy – the venerable McBain Shield – at stake, but also potentially top spot on the Swindale Shield standings with these two 1-2 going into the weekend. Fireworks are normally expected when these two meet, but tomorrow might be something special.
The McBain Shield commemorates the memory of Alexander McBain, who was the first headmaster of Eastern Hutt School when it opened in 1915. He was a lifelong local rugby supporter, served as vice-president of the WRFU, and the first person made a Life Member of the Hutt FC club. It was first played for in 1934 and every year since 1936 between Petone and Hutt (1934-1966), Hutt Old Boys (1967-1993), and now HOBM since 1994; albeit with some of those matches below the top-flight owing to the standing of the Hutt club at the time. Petone will be looking to retain the trophy after last year’s highly entertaining 49-31 win at the Hutt Rec last year – something seen as a bit of an upset at the time – though HOBM returned serve winning the Jubilee Cup clash 36-17 at tomorrow’s venue.
The Villagers will have the services of both Pasi Uluilakepa and Losi Filipo who return from Hurricanes Development and injury respectively with Ngarangi Haerewa partnering Logan Henry in the halves with Carlos Price available off the bench. Willie Fine – who scored a hat-trick including the match-winner two years ago – forms the outside back trio with Jarrod Adams and Adam Simpson. Conversely the Eagles appear to be without both James O’Reilly (who is on the bench for the Hurricanes tonight) and Chase Tiatia, and make just two changes from the side that comfortably beat Wellington last weekend; club veteran Dan Corderoy replaces Teagan Harawira at lock and Jerome Harimate swaps places with Patrico Ta’afua on the wing.
Lastly, as featured yesterday on Club Rugby it’s a milestone match for referee Richard Gordon who will take charge of his 100th Wellington Premier game.
There’s one other match between sides currently in the top half of the table, at Nairnville Park where Old Boys-University will look to defend the Bill Brien Challenge Trophy against Oriental-Rongotai. Recent matches between the two have been crackers; two years ago the Goats stole a pair of last minute one-point wins and their 2015 Jubilee Cup semi-final went down to a last-minute long range penalty attempt. The Magpies gained a measure of revenge when they ended OBU’s unbeaten run to start last year, but OBU won their last meeting 39-24 in the Jubilee Cup.
OBU are able to plug Teariki Ben Nicholas back into their pack while Will Tremain also starts on the openside, though they’re again without the imposing Jonathan Fuimaono. They’ve also reshuffled the backline with Dale Sabbagh returning to the #10 jersey. Ories welcome Marcel Renata back from Hurricanes Development duty in the only change to their forwards while Alex Ropeti moves into midfield with Hayden Whelan taking the first-five place.
Marist St Pat's sit fourth after seeing off Pare-Plim, and will be warm favourites when they travel to Helston Park to take on Johnsonville. The Hawks have failed to take flight so far, and are the only side yet to take a competition point and the odds might be long on them changing that tomorrow. The will start perhaps their preferred loose trio of Mykel Herewini, Marcus Ale, and Simi Navoka, while veteran Alfred Pelenise will run the cutter at first-five. MSP aren’t taking many chances against the bottom side rolling out a strong team that includes the midfield pairing of Billy Proctor and Isaia Petelo who 100th Premier match for the side, and against the club he played half a season for a few years ago when the Hawks top side was in the old Senior 1 grade.
Last year’s Wellington College captain and NZ Schools rep Naitoa Ah Kuoi makes his Premier debut while his St Pat's Town counterpart Xavier English is one of four who could debut from the bench.
For all the turmoil going on around them off the field, Poneke continues to deliver on it, and their challenge tomorrow is the short journey to Hataitai Park and a clash with Wellington. The Axemen are after a second success on the season, but are also coming off a hefty loss to the leaders. Their side tomorrow has a bit more steel in the pack with the return of veteran Simon Shearer with skipper Alex Dalzell – who’s been in great form to start the season – moving back to the blindside, and Ollie Marshall making his first Premier start at first-five. Poneke will have Lions and Hurricanes lock Isiah Walker-Leawere in their pack, with Galu Taufale also returning and a first appearance for the year for Michael Sage who topped the tryscoring chart in last year’s Swindale Shield with 12.
The two sides also contest their Spud Lindsay Memorial Trophy. Ray Lindsay, known as “Spud” was a Poneke player, administrator, and senior coach through the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s, before being replaced as senior coach in 1958. Following this he moved to the Axemen where he was involved until his death in 1973, and the trophy was donated by his family that year. It’s held by Poneke after their 59-26 win last year.
Two matches tomorrow are direct clashes between teams on the fringe of the top-seven. At William Jones Park Wainuiomata go into the match on their Old Timers’ Day with Norths on the back of having beaten Johnsonville while the visitors narrowly went down to Poneke. Both sides are strengthened by the return of some of their bigger names; the home side will have Peter Umaga-Jensen lining up at centre with Greg Leolofi named on the bench for his first appearance of the year while Norths have the services of Jackson Garden-Bachop, Du’plessis Kirifi, and Leni Apisai. Of particular note will the backline battle between Umaga-Jensen and veteran Isaiah Mamea against youngsters Kienan Higgins and Denny To’o.
The two also play for an interclub trophy, the Alf Keating Memorial Trophy. Keating played for both clubs, and the trophy is held by Norths after their 36-5 win at Porirua Park last season, while they also won their season-ending Jubilee Cup clash 34-33.
All the way across town two sides that have each lost their last two matches clash at Lyndhurst Park with Tawa and Avalon both looking to get back on track. Tawa will particularly want to deliver a good performance on their Old Timers Day after being well outplayed by Petone last Saturday, while Avalon will be buoyed by having pushed Ories but frustrated to have lost in the dying moments.
Kalim Kelemete lines up in midfield in his blazer game in a number of changes for the home side, including returns for Hemi Fermanis, Tito Ioane, and captain Kemara Hauiti-Parapara; Tawa will also be wearing black armbands for the passing of Taniela Koroi’s father. Avalon has named an unchanged forward pack despite rumours that Asafo Aumua might be available, while the backline has Jesse Oloapu in at centre and Jordan Aquila switching to fullback.
Finally, Paremata-Plimmerton play host to the Upper Hutt Rams at Ngati Toa. The home side hasn’t won two games in the same Swindale Shield campaign since their return to the top-flight in 2015 and will see tomorrow is a great opportunity. The Rams got themselves off the bottom with a four-try bonus against OBU, but remain winless and will be looking to change that.
Pare-Plim have gone for a big pack with both Taisson Lealaisalanoa and James Hansen starting, while its comparatively inexperienced backline that’s missing Blake Neve owing to a head-knock suffered last week. The Rams have switched erstwhile hooker Josh Houston-Tupou to No.8 and George Fainga’a moves into midfield in place of Kono Feaunati.
All seven matches kickoff at 2.45pm.
Norths head the table a point clear of MSP, and the two unbeaten sides shouldn’t have too many issues maintaining that when visiting Wainuiomata at William Jones and Johnsonville at Helston respectively tomorrow. Petone will look to keep in touch when they host HOBM in the McBain curtain-raiser, while titleholders OBU will look to continue rattling on the points but face a sterner test against Ories at Nairnville.
Elsewhere Poneke will look to rebound from their first loss when they head up to Hataitai to take on Wellington, Tawa host Avalon at Lyndhurst, and winless Pare-Plim welcome the Upper Hutt Rams to Ngati Toa with the visitors licking their wounds after last weekend’s shellacking.
All seven matches get underway at 1pm.
The women’s competition kicks off in the same manner as the men’s did with a Gala Day, however in their case it’s at Ngati Toa Domain. With nine teams this year it’s a single round-robin format for a new prize with the Rebecca Liua’ana Trophy – one of three new trophies for the women’s game announced by the WRFU yesterday – replacing the now-retired Fleurs Trophy; Liua’ana is a former Black Fern and Oriental-Rongotai’s only women centurion and presently the manager of Ories’ Premier Reserve side.
There will be considerable interest in all four matches, particularly those taking place on the newly renovated northern fields, with all eight teams in action looking to get their seasons off to a winning start.
Home team Paremata-Plimmerton is afforded the honour of playing on their #1 field, and will be up against Hutt Old Boys Marist. Poneke and competition returnees Avalon line up on #2, Old Boys-University clash with Marist St Pat’s on #3 and Norths take on Petone on the new #4 field.
Defending champions Oriental-Rongotai have the first week bye. All four matches kickoff at 11.30am
Like the ladies the age-grade competition gets underway though without any Gala Day fanfare or a knockout competition, like there was last year, to start. The sixteen teams – one from each Premier club and two additional sides from Old Boys-University – are split into two divisions along the lines of how they were placed last year.
The Division 1 Paris Memorial Trophy matches have defending grade champions Petone taking on cross-river rivals HOBM at the Petone Rec, Tawa host runners-up OBU Green at Redwood (at 12.45pm), Norths and MSP clash at Jerry Collins Stadium, and Division 2 winners the Upper Hutt Rams have been promoted and are at home at Maidstone against Oriental-Rongotai at 12pm.
In the four Division 2 matches Paremata-Plimmerton will look to defend the JRD Cup they won in the first-half of last year and gain promotion into Division 1 for the championship part of the season, and they get underway at home against OBU White. Also tomorrow Wainuiomata host OBU Black at Mary Crowther and Johnsonville and Avalon meet at Newlands Park, with Wellington and Poneke kicking off the competition tonight at Te Whaea at 7.30pm and playing for the Misiluni Moananu Trophy.
Unless stated all eight matches kickoff tomorrow at 1pm
The Under 85s continue their early season matches ahead of the competition proper. The MSP Reds and Wellington have an early kickoff at 1pm at Evans Bay with the remaining five scheduled matches all at 2.45pm. The OBU Bunnies line up against the Wests Roosters at Prince of Wales, Eastbourne host HOBM at HW Shortt, Tawa take on Paraparaumu at Redwood, Wainuiomata and the Upper Hutt Rams take to Mary Crowther, and the MSP Greens and Johnsonville at on the St Patrick’s artificial.
After last weekend’s shambolic opening that saw only two of the five matches in the First Grade Thompson Memorial actually played fingers crossed for a full slate this time out. All five matches are also 2.45pm kickoffs with MSP hosting Petone at Evans Bay, Poneke doing likewise with OBU across the road on Kilbirnie #2, and valley rivals Avalon and HOBM at Fraser Park. The two Stokes Valley teams are both away from home with the ‘A’ Chiefs against Norths at the JCS and the ‘B’ Rhinos at Redwood to face Tawa.
Both the Reserve and Presidents grade get underway tomorrow as well. The 12 Reserve grade teams are all at Ian Galloway Park for an Opening Day where they’ll play as series of 20 minute matches, while the Presidents grade season of social combat kickoffs around the province.
Lastly, there’s some notable early season college games with Rongotai facing Nelson College at 1pm, Scots hosting Auckland’s Kings College at 1.30pm, and Silverstream taking on New Plymouth’s Francis Douglas Memorial College at 2pm.