CMRFU clubs to offer junior rugby for free in Kiwi-first pilot

CMRFU clubs to offer junior rugby for free in Kiwi-first pilot

With the cost-of-living crisis hitting communities hard, the Counties Manukau Rugby Football Union has today launched a pilot programme to offer free rugby for junior players in South Auckland.

The Union is working with 11 of the 17 clubs across the Counties Manukau region for the 2024 season to offer the option at registration for players to sign up to junior rugby for free.

Participants will also be given the option of providing a donation to clubs if they wish – and have the means - to contribute.

CMRFU CEO Chad Shepherd said the concept had been developed in collaboration with the clubs in Counties Manukau and that “in the land of the All Blacks and Black Ferns, no child should miss out on playing our national game due to poverty.”

“The cost-of-living crisis is real and having an impact in our community,” Shepherd said.

“The idea to launch this pilot scheme came about after one of our clubs, Manurewa, decided to offer free fees to their juniors on the back of the COVID-19 pandemic and saw double-digit growth almost immediately.

“A number of former Steelers players we are calling ‘Guardians of Counties Rugby’ heard about what was going on at Manurewa and have worked hard behind the scenes to help set up the Counties Manukau Rugby Trust.

“We want rugby to be the sport of choice for our boys and girls in this region and if we can play a part by making it more affordable we have a responsibility and duty to do what we can.”

Shepherd said for the first year of the initiative, the Union had worked with all clubs to determine a good geographical spread.

“Some clubs are already at capacity and weren’t in a position to sign up for this year’s pilot,” he added. “We absolutely respect that and have worked hard to ensure we are offering free fees across most of the region.

“Long-term, if all goes well we’d like to roll out the free fees approach across the entire 17 clubs in Counties Manukau.”

The 11 clubs who have signed up to offer free fees this year are:

Weymouth, Manurewa, Pukekohe, Patumahoe, Waiuku, Onewhero, Tuakau, Te Kauwhata, Maramarua, Puni and Drury.

In doing so, those clubs have foregone significant revenue usually generated by junior fees.

To offset this funding shortfall, the CMRFU has committed to distribute a minimum of $60,000 in 2024 which will be paid out to the clubs on a pro-rated approach based on the number of non-fee-paying juniors they have.

The Union has invested the $1m capital it received from New Zealand Rugby’s Silverlake deal into a term deposit with banking partner, BNZ, and is committing to distribute all interest proceeds earned.

Further donations from key partners of the Union are also expected to increase the pot of money to be distributed with the first commitment coming from the Garner family, owners of long-time Union sponsor PIC Insurance Brokers and huge supporters of the community game.

“It seems incredibly fitting that the first donation we have received to help make this scheme possible has come from Robyn Garner and the Garner family,” Shepherd said.

“Her late husband Mike was passionate about the community game and as a family they have already done so much for rugby in this region for decades.

“We can’t thank them enough for their support and their contribution is going to be potentially life-changing for the next Jonah Lomu or Hazel Tubic who might just be able to play rugby now on the back of their generosity.”

In addition to the Garner family contribution, a group of former Steelers players and rugby people have also committed behind the scenes to contributing their own funds to increase the distribution to the clubs.

“At this stage, it’s looking like we are going to be in a position to distribute at least $100,000 to our clubs,” Shepherd said.

“The reality is that our 11 clubs who have signed up for this year’s pilot have taken a risk as we can’t guarantee how much per-head we will be able to reimburse them as we don’t know how many kids will take up the offer.

“We are doing what we can to help increase the pool of funds we are able to distribute but the consequence of the scheme potentially going gangbusters is the per-head amount we can donate is likely to come down.

“We are still in the market for further donations and have had a couple of really positive conversations with local organisations who wish to remain anonymous but are likely to contribute in the coming months.

“Our purpose here at the CMRFU is to grow, empower and inspire our community through rugby and we are certainly hoping this new initiative will do that.”

In order to take advantage of the free fee offering, click on one of the links below to sign up to junior rugby today.


Te Kauwhata