Manawatu Rugby Union

Manawatu Rugby Union
Founded 1886
Region Hurricanes
Ground(s) Central Energy Trust Arena (Capacity: 18,000)
League(s) Mitre 10 Cup
2015 7th (Premiership)
Official website

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.[1] 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[2] and also the Massey University Sport and Rugby Institute.[3]

Manawatu Turbos

Manawatu Turbos
Union Manawatu Rugby Union
Founded 2006
Location Manawatu-Wanganui
Region Manawatu, New Zealand
Ground(s) Central Energy Trust Arena (Capacity: 18,000)
Coach(es) Jeremy Cotter
Captain(s) Callum Gibbins
League(s) Mitre 10 Cup Championship.
2015 7th, Relegated to Championship
Team kit
Official website
The Current Jersey that the turbos are wearing as of 2016

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.[4]

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:

Current squad

The Turbos squad for the 2016 Mitre 10 Cup.[5] On 10 August Manawatu signed Canadian international prop Jake Ilnicki.[6]





Loose forwards

Halfbacks (Scrum-halves)

First Five-Eighths (Fly-halves)


Midfielders (Centres)

Outside Backs

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:

Club Name Colours From
‡ High School Old Boys-Marist (OBM) Black, White & Green hoops Palmerston North
College Old Boys (COB) White, Maroon, Gold & Black Palmerston North
Freyberg Blue & Yellow hoops Milson, Palmerston North
Kia Toa Light Blue & Dark Blue Awapuni/Highbury, Palmerston North
Varsity Sky Blue Massey University, Palmerston North
Feilding (Feilding Yellows) Yellow & Black Feilding
† Feilding Old Boys-Oroua (FOB-O) Black, White, Red & Blue Feilding and Kimbolton
×Dannevirke Black and Gold Dannevirke
Linton Army Red & Black Linton Military Camp
Te Kawau Emerald Green & Black Rongotea

‡ 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.[7]

Other clubs include:

Club Name Colours From
Ashhurst-Pohangina Green and Gold Ashhurst
Bunnythorpe Maroon, Gold and Black Bunnythorpe
Bulls Black Bulls
Halcombe Black and Red Halcombe
° Bush Sports Red and Blue Pahiatua

° Junior level only is played in Manawatu; Senior level has returned to Wairarapa-Bush Rugby Union[8]

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:

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:

Manawatu Players who have played for the Highlanders:

Manawatu Players who have played for the Chiefs:

Manawatu players who have played for the Blues:

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

Women's Rugby: Manawatu Cyclones

Manawatu Cyclones
Union Manawatu Rugby Union
Location Manawatu-Wanganui
Ground(s) Central Energy Trust Arena (Capacity: 18,000)

John Kendal

Stu Ross
Captain(s) Sarah Goss
League(s) Women's Provincial Championship
2012 5th
Team kit
Official website

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:




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.[9]


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.[10] 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".[11][12][13][14][15][16][17][18][19][20][21][22][23][24][25]

"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

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:


[26] [27] [28]

Played 100 matches for Manawatu

Name Years Games
Gary Knight 1975–1986 145
Ken Granger 1971–1984 128
Geoff Old 1975–1985 117
Murray Rosenbrook 1979–1986 111
Mark Donaldson 1974–1985 110
Rob Foreman 2006–2015 110
Bruce Hemara 1978–1990 108
Kevin Eveleigh 1969–1978 107
Perry Harris 1970–1979 106
Don McCaskie 1956–1967 101

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.

Player Name All Black Number Years Total matches (tests) Club Nickname About
Mark Allen No. 933 1993–97 27 (8) Massey University "Bull" 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 No. 548 1953–54 20 (0) Kia Toa retired at aged 23 to his family farm.
Robert (Bob) Burgess No. 690 1971–73 30 (7) Massey University 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 No. 727 1974–76 18 (4) High School Old Boys ♦ Second rower whose career was ended by back problems. Went back to the farm after excelling for both Manawatu and the All Blacks.
Lachlan Cameron No. 796 1979–81 17 (5) Massey University Lachie An exciting midfielder from the Varsity club. In 1981 he played in the dramatic 3rd Test versus the Springboks at Eden Park.
Alphonsus Carroll No. 217 1920 8 (0) Jackeytown ♣ "Phonse" 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 No. 21 1893 12 (0) Palmerston ♣ Played only one season in Manawatu.[29]
Aaron Cruden #1105 2010– current College Old Boys 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.[10]
Christian Cullen No. 952 1996–2002 60 (58) Kia Toa "Paekakariki Express" 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 No. 958 1996 2 (0) Massey University. "Chester"
Mark Donaldson No. 781 1977–81 35 (13) High School Old Boys♦ "Bullet" An inspiration to Manawatu rugby. Later coached an exciting and youthful Manawatu side in the early-90s.

In 1981, in his last touch of the ball in All Black rugby, Donaldson took a quick-thinking tap on a free kick late in the series-deciding test against South Africa. This play was instrumental in setting up Alan Hewson's famous last-minute penalty goal.[1]

Kevin Eveleigh No. 740 1974–77 30 (4) Feilding "Hayburner" Voted Rugby News' 'All Black player of the tour', to South Africa, 1976.
Brian Finlay No. 596 1959 1 (1) Marist ♦ 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 an 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 No. 455 1946 1 (1) Feilding Old Boys ♦ World War Two shortened his potential All Black career.
Mark Finlay No. 856 1984 2 (0) High School Old Boys ♦ ex PNBHS 1st XV star who toured Fiji.
William Freebairn No. 554 1953–54 14 (0) Feilding "Stewie" Feilding Agricultural High School.
Ken Granger No. 755 1976 6 (0) Freyberg Old Boys "Gringo" 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 No. 751 1976 4 (1) Te Kawau 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 No. 859 1985 3 (0) Freyberg Old Boys Manawatu Player of the Year 1983, NZ Māori representative. With All Black hooking incumbent, Andy Dalton, unavailable for the All Blacks' tour to Argentina in 1985, Hemara was his natural replacement.

In 1986, Dalton was away with the New Zealand Cavaliers in South Africa which allowed Hemara to win selection for the All Blacks in the first test against France. Injury prevented Hemara from making his much deserved test debut and Sean Fitzpatrick took his place. Later, Hemara became assistant coach of the Turbos (2006–10).

Ron Horsley No. 610 1960–64 3 (0) Kia Toa "Honest Ron" Made his All Black debut playing for Wellington. The imposing lock forward captained Manawatu in 1962 before coaching Kia Toa.
Gary Knight No. 782 1977–86 66 (36) High School Old Boys ♦ "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. Won the New Zealand Rugby Player of the Year trophy in 1981.
Kent Lambert No. 718 1972–77 40 (11) Massey University Formidable prop forward. 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 No. 319 1925 4 (0) High School Old Boys ♦ A farmer, he was a star for the PNBHS 1st XV for several seasons.
John Loveday No. 787 1978 7 (0) High School Old Boys ♦ 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 No. 403 1934–38 35 (9) Kia Toa "Squire"
Alex McMinn No. 114 1904 1 (1) College St Old Boys ♣ Paddy His Irish father was sent out to New Zealand by a London newspaper to cover the 'Māori wars' in Taranaki in 1963 and later established the Manawatu Evening Standard. Paddy's younger brother 'Archie' was also an All Black.
Archibald McMinn No. 102 1903–05 10 (2) Institute ♣ Archie An imposing line-out specialist with the pace of a wing three-quarter. A fishmonger who died in 1919 aged 38.
John Mowlem No. 37 1893 4 (0) Palmerston ♣
Mick O'Callaghan No. 676 1968 3 (3) Massey University A winger and crowd favourite, played for Manawatu until the 1979 season.
Geoff Old No. 817 1980–83 17 (3) High School Old Boys ♦ 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 No. 750 1976–81 43 (17) Marist ♦ "Filth" 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 and Ireland. An integral part of the 1980 NPC winning side. Selected on the centenary tour of Wales in late 1980.
Doug Rollerson No. 758 1976–81 24 (8) Massey University 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.

Shocked NZ rugby when he announced he was leaving for the North Sydney Bears in the NSWRL for the 1982 season. His subsequent professional rugby league career was considered unsuccessful, persistent injuries didn't help.

Kevin Schuler No. 904 1989–95 13 (4) Massey University "Herb"
Mark Shaw No. 810 1980–86 69 (30) Kia Toa "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 No. 31 1893 6 (0) Marton ♥
Aaron Smith #1112 2012– current Feilding "Nugget" Became the All Black's first choice halfback in 2013.
Sam Strahan No. 657 1967–73 45 (17) Oroua ♦ Imposing second rower, formed a formidable combination with John Calleson.
Craig Wickes No. 821 1980 1 (0) Palmerston North Boys' High School At aged 18 years, 196 days this schoolboy winger 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.

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

All Blacks formerly from Manawatu

Player Name All Black Number Years Total matches (tests) Club when at Manawatu About
John Buxton No. 573 1955 2 (2)Massey University
Graham Delamore No. 493 1949 9 (1) represented Manawatu 1943–44.
Keith Gudsell No. 500 1949 6 (0) Massey University
Jason Eaton #1063 2005–09 17 (17) Feilding Manawatu (2002–03); Moved to Taranaki before making All Black debut.
Jason Hewett No. 914 1991 1 (1) Massey University Manawatu (1988–90). He was recruited into the Auckland NPC side midway through 1990. He made his All Black debut at the 1991 World Cup.
John Hotop No. 540 1952 3 (3)Massey University
Brian Molloy No. 588 1957 5 (0) Massey University
Dick Myers No. 779 1977 5 (1) Massey University
Bob Oliphant No. 45 1893 3 (0)
Syd Orchard No. 61 1896 8 (0)
Mark Ranby #1001 2001 1 (1) Massey University Moved to Waikato before becoming an All Black.
Keith Reid No. 365 1929 5 (2)
Lee Stensness No. 932 1993–97 14 (8)Massey University 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.

Bob Stuart No. 510 1949–54 27 (7) played 4 matches for Manawatu in 1941.
Kel Tremain No. 604 1959–68 38 (27) Massey University Played 6 games for Manawatu in 1958[30]
Wilson Whineray No. 585 1957–65 77 (32) Massey University Played for Manawatu in 1955 before leaving for Canterbury.
Murray Watts No. 793 1979–80 13 (5) Teachers College - Freyberg A Manawatu junior All Black who moved back to Taranaki before becoming an All Black.
Dion Waller #1011 2001 3 (1) Marist Played the 1997 and 1998 seasons with Manawatu and the Central Vikings before becoming an All Black with Wellington.

Other distinguished current and former players



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  27. Acknowledgement to Clive Akers from the NZ Rugby Museum
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