On 7 September 2013 Counties Manukau won the Ranfurly Shield for the very first time in the Union’s history, beating Hawke’s Bay 27-24 at McLean Park in Napier.
We look back at the side that lifted the Log of Wood and find out where they are now, a decade on.
1. Simon Lemalu
A brilliantly skilful prop with ball-playing skills a first-five would be proud of. Lemalu, a long-time Waiuku club representative, played test footy for Samoa and made two appearances in Super Rugby with the Chiefs. He enjoyed a successful career with Counties Manukau and produced some highlight reel plays despite never shirking the tough stuff. After finishing with the Steelers, Lemalu moved to Australia for a period before returning to New Zealand recently.
2. Hika Elliot
The four-test All Black joined the Steelers in 2013 and helped lift the Ranfurly Shield off his former province in a bizarre turn of events. Elliot enjoyed a strong season with the Steelers, playing eight games. After a brief stint playing with Taranaki, Elliot returned to Counties Manukau in 2016-17, playing six more times. He then moved to France, where he has played nearly 100 professional games and is still running around at age 37.
3. Jarrod Firth
Firth was a no-nonsense front rower than enjoyed some strong performances in the Steelers jersey during his all-too-brief career. Only 21 when he helped the Steelers lift the Log of Wood, Firth played 25 games for the province between 2013-16 and made two appearances for the Chiefs. He then moved to Scotland and France to play professionally before returning to begin a coaching career. After a successful campaign with Papakura in the McNamara Cup this year, he is helping coach the Counties Manukau Development side.
4. Ronald Raaymakers
Another player to have represented New Zealand at U20 level, Raaymakers became a regular in the Steelers side after making his debut in 2010. A Waiuku club stalwart, he played a couple of games for the Blues in 2013 before helping the Steelers win the Ranfurly Shield. Raaymakers has moved to the Taranaki where he operates a farm.
5. Jimmy Tupou
The New Zealand U20 star enjoyed a superb career with Counties Manukau, the Crusaders and the Blues before heading offshore to Japan in 2018. He played all nine games for the Steelers in 2013 and became a key figure in the next few years, eventually captaining the side.
A 50-game veteran for the Steelers, Tupou returns to Counties Manukau this season to add to his caps tally and will provide a veteran leader to the forward pack.
6. Adam Cathcart
A hard-working blindside flanker from Onewhero, Cathcart enjoyed a superb season with the Steelers in 2013 and was a key figure in the side’s success. After a superb NPC campaign, he was set to move south to join the Highlanders but was forced to retire early due to a career-ending injury. Cathcart had a brief stint as coach of Onewhero before moving south to take up his own farm in the Waikato.
7. Maama Vaipulu
Vaipulu played all three loose forward positions during his time with the Steelers but was a regular open side during the 2013 season when the Steelers won the Ranfurly Shield. A powerful ball runner, hard hitter in defense and explosive runner, Vaipulu earned 18 caps for the Chiefs in Super Rugby in 2014-15 before heading overseas.
The Tongan international played for Castres in France but returned back to Counties Manukau in the past couple of years. After a brilliant season for club side Pukekohe, Vaipulu has earned another contract with the Steelers.
8. Fritz Lee (capt)
Lee etched his name into Counties Manukau Rugby folklore when he captained the side to their first ever Ranfurly Shield win in 2013. Having made his debut with the side in 2007, Lee was one of the more experienced members of the side – he left Counties Manukau at the end of the 2013 season with 65 caps to his name and 22 games for the Chiefs.
Since then he has played in France with Clermont Auvergne, where he’s clocked up over 200 games.
9. Augustine Pulu
A physical and hard-working halfback, Pulu made his debut with the Steelers in 2009 and spent the 2013 season with the Chiefs, where he helped them win the Super Rugby title. He brought that form into the Steelers and was a key figure in their success in 2013.
The following season, Pulu would be called into the All Blacks, where he would play two test matches. He made the switch to the Blues in 2017 and captained the side before heading to Japan in 2019, where he is still playing.
10. Baden Kerr
The goal-kicking whiz for the Steelers, Kerr had been in the side since 2010 and was one of the more senior figures. He contributed four penalty goals for 12 points in the famous win over Hawke’s Bay.
He had made his Blues debut the same season and went on to play 13 times for the Super Rugby outfit and 45 for the Steelers across three separate stints.
Kerr retired in 2020 and went into real estate before coming out of retirement to play for the Fiji Drua in Super Rugby Pacific last year and is living near the Gold Coast.
11. Toni Pulu
Pulu had established himself in the side the year earlier as Counties Manukau won promotion to the Premiership in 2012. He enjoyed some terrific seasons on the end of the Steelers back-line, and was rewarded with a Chiefs contract. He played 31 games for the Chiefs from 2016-18 before heading to Australia, where he played firstly for the Brumbies and more recently the Western Force.
Pulu returns to Counties Manukau this year and will be a key finisher for coach Reon Graham.
12. Bundee Aki
Aki was a star for the Steelers and was in the middle of a brilliant four-year stint with the side when they lifted the Ranfurly Shield. After 43 games with the Steelers and 25 with the Chiefs, Aki headed to Ireland after the 2014 season and turned himself into a star on the global stage.
After playing for Connacht, Aki made his Irish debut after serving the three-year residency requirement and has amassed 46 tests for Ireland and one for the British and Irish Lions in 2021.
13. Rey Lee-Lo
The Samoan international joined Counties Manukau in 2009 and former a lethal midfield combination with Aki for a number of seasons. He left after the 2014 season having played 53 games for the Steelers as well as 24 games with the Hurricanes and five with the Crusaders in Super Rugby. Since 2015, Lee-Lo has played for the Cardiff Blues, where he’s racked up well over 150 games. He has also represented Samoa on 25 occasions since 2014.
14. Frank Halai
The powerfully built winger made the move to Counties Manukau from Waikato in 2012 and became a regular for coach Tana Umaga. He played 38 games for the Blues from 2013-15 and was selected for the All Blacks in a one-off test in 2013, shortly after helping the Steelers win the Ranfurly Shield.
Halai headed to Europe in 2015, playing initially for Wasps in England before heading to Pau in France. He has most recently played for the Austin Gilgronis in United States.
15. Sherwin Stowers
A 78-game veteran for the Steelers, Stowers was an electric finisher with insane speed and played both wing and fullback during his time with the province.
Stowers started at fullback in the Shield win and scored his side’s opening try.
He played 18 games for the Blues between 2011-12 and was a legendary figure in Sevens, where he won a gold medal and silver medal at the Delhi and Glasgow Commonwealth Games respectively. Stowers, married to Black Fern Karina Penetito, retired from rugby in 2017 and now works as a teacher at Holy Cross Catholic School, Papatoetoe and is 1st XV Assistant Coach at St Kentigern College.
16. Suliasi Taufalele
Taufalele came off the bench in the Ranfurly Shield win and was a key figure for the Steelers during his years with the province after making his debut in 2011.
The Tongan international played five test matches for his country after making his debut in the Shield winning season of 2013.
After retiring from rugby, Taufalele got into coaching, spending time at Ardmore Marist before becoming assistant coach with Auckland club champions Manukau Rovers.
17. Sam Aiono
A tough and uncompromising prop forward, Aiono came off the bench in the Shield win over Hawke’s Bay. Aiono played for a number of Counties Manukau clubs and was a regular in squads for a number of seasons. He got into coaching once he finished playing the game and was head coach of Bombay in the McNamara Cup from 2021-22 and with Papatoetoe this year.
Aiono’s sisters Glory and Jacqui have played for the Counties Manukau Heat in recent years.
18. Sikeli Nabou
The towering figure of Sikeli Nabou charging to the try line to score the final try in the 2013 Shield win will be a memory long revered in Counties Manukau Rugby. The big Fijian made a massive impact that day as he proved the hero after coming off the bench. Nabou, who played six tests in 2017-18 for Fiji, played for the Steelers for a decade from 2009-19 before heading to France, where he played for Biarritz and then Soyaux-Angoulême XV Charente, where he remains today.
19. Sean Reidy
Another player to come off the bench against the Magpies and score a try to help lift the Log of Wood, Reidy made a brief impact with Counties Manukau after some impressive club seasons with Patumahoe. After a strong season for the Steelers in 2013, he opted to head to Ireland after failing to get a Super Rugby contract and linked up with Ulster. That became a great move as he qualified to play for Ireland due to heritage and he ended up playing two test matches in 2017-18.
Reidy returned to Counties Manukau last season and was captain for a period until injury cut short his season. He is back for another run in 2023.
20. Kane Hancy
The bench halfback that took the final act of kicking the ball into touch and securing a Ranfurly Shield win for the first time for Counties Manukau. Hancy was a regular bench halfback during his years with Counties Manukau. He played five seasons for the Counties Manukau – his last coming in 2015.
Hancy has long played in Portugal, where he has made a home for himself.
He retired from playing a couple of years ago but is still involved in rugby in his adopted homeland.
21. Ahsee Tuala
The uber talented and versatile Ahsee Tuala came off the bench for the Steelers as they won the Ranfurly Shield for the first time. The 24-test Samoan international played over 50 games for the Steelers from his debut in 2009 until 2014, when he left to play overseas.
He played 140 games for Northampton before returning to New Zealand last year and linking up with the Steelers once again.
Tuala helped Manurewa go back-to-back in the McNamara Cup this year and will be a key player for Reon Graham this NPC season.
22. Sam Vaka
Vaka was in his rookie season with the Steelers in 2013 and came off the bench in the Shield win. He went on to play 34 games with the Steelers until moving overseas after the 2017 season.
He played three games for the Chiefs and was regular in the All Blacks Sevens side in 2014 and 2015.
He linked up with SU Agen Lot-et-Garonne in 2018.
Coach: Tana Umaga
The legendary former All Blacks skipper took over coaching the Steelers in 2012 after being a player-coach in 2011-12.
He presided over a terrific team that not only won the Ranfurly Shield for the first time but also won promotion from the Championship in 2012 and guided his side to the semi-finals in 2013 and just missed in both 2014 and 2015.
He went on to coach the Blues in Super Rugby from 2016-18 and has been a defensive coach with the side after that.
He has recently been announced as the new head coach of Moana Pasifika.
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