The re-birth of Te Kohanga Rugby is set to take Counties Manukau Rugby by storm with a huge crowd expected to cheer on their side as they open the Championship grade in the Counties Power Game of the Week against Puni on Saturday.
Over 300 hangi packs have been pre-sold and the signs point to a huge welcome back to senior rugby for the small, rural club on the way to Port Waikato.
Puni were the success story of the lost 2020 competition and they will bring the Blackie Cooper Memorial Shield with them.
The Shield, contested by the two clubs, goes on the line when the holder is on the road.
“He was the last founding member of the Te Kohanga Rugby Club,” Te Kohanga president Paikea Cooper said.
“He’s passed on now but he wanted to bring the two Maori clubs together and keep Maori boys in rugby.
“Puni hold it and they will bring the Shield down to our grounds on the weekend.
“May 5 2017 was the last time it was played for.”
While many clubs are struggling for numbers, Te Kohanga have found some real growth.
“Our members are really growing – we have had a lot of new members come and join us,” Cooper said.
“There will be a lot of competition for spots in the 22.”
The remainder of the opening Championship round kicks off with Maramarua hosting Drury, Te Kauwhata Proclad travelling to Mountfort Park to play Manurewa, Tuakau hosting Papakura Thirsty Liquor while Patumahoe Village Bar & Grill is at home against Pukekohe.
Reigning McNamara Cup premiers Bombay Super Freight host Onewhero Summit Homes in the live-streamed game at Bombay on Saturday.
Both teams are coming off losses – Bombay will be desperate to keep pace with the leading sides while Onewhero will be eager to get themselves away from the foot of the table and a first win of the 2021 season would be just the tonic.
Having won five of the past six McNamara Cups, Bombay has been the team to beat in recent years but a change in coaching structure and the natural roster turnover has seen much of those responsible for their recent dynasty move on.
Former Steelers prop Sam Aiono has taken over the reins and has helped his side to a solid start to his first campaign in charge.
Onewhero are really hurting with the lack of playing numbers that is impacting many clubs at present.
It has got to dire levels and the club has openly asked for assistance as they try to make it through the season.
“Since the beginning of pre-season we have been struggling with numbers,” coach Paolo Bernadi said. “During the past years the numbers of players have been going down. At the moment we have no depth.
“The U85s luckily are sending us some players to cover positions.
“The injury, justice system and sickness list is not helping either.
“We started the season with 25 players in the side and after the first three games we have been lucky last week to come up with 17 players.
“We know the situation and the boys are always putting on the best of their game on the field.
“I am very proud of them and they deserve the respect they are gaining by example on the field.”
To their credit the club is looking at ways to get sustainable playing numbers and are already working on new initiatives.
“The Union us helping us with heaps of communication and help from coaches and referees,” Bernadi said.
“We are starting now to rebuild the depth and the plan is to create and U21 side for next season creating connections with neighbouring colleges at Onewhero, Tuakau and Te Kauwhata to start.”
A win right now would be a massive coup for the club.
Top-of-the-table Karaka tackles the in-form Waiuku Land & Sea Civil in an intriguing contest at Rugby Park in Waiuku.
A win over the last remaining unbeaten side would seriously announce Waiuku as title contenders after some impressive recent results.
Ardmore Marist South Auckland Motors will look to bounce back from their narrow loss to Karaka last week by holding off Pukekohe Mitre 10 Mega, who will be eager to get back in the winner’s column.
Patumahoe Troydon Patumahoe Hotel travels to Massey Park in Papakura to face Papakura Thirsty Liquor while Manurewa Kidd Contracting hosts neighbours Weymouth at Mountfort Park.
Karaka travels to Bombay Pokeno Bacon in Bob Chandler Cup Premier Reserves competition while Manurewa Wise Property Management hosts Patumahoe Dave Redshaw Electrical.
Pukekohe faces Ardmore Marist Barfoot & Thompson at Pulman Park.
Waiuku takes on Papakura in Massey Cup U21 action. Elsewhere in the grade Pukekohe hosts Karaka and Patumahoe CKM Construction travels to Mountfort Park to play Manurewa Barfoot & Thompson.
In the U85kg competition Patumahoe Pak N Save Pukekohe travels to Te Kauwhata, Waiuku hosts Onewhero, Karaka travels to Beachlands Maraetai while Pukekohe meets Papakura at Colin Lawrie Fields.
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