Club rugby is alive and well in Wellington. There are currently 18 individual clubs fielding more than 3600 players in 138 Senior teams across 14 grades, a number which has remained steady over the past decade since the advent of professional rugby.
Rugby in Wellington was started at club level almost 140 years ago by Captain JCR Isherwood of the 69 Foot Regiment who founded the Wellington Football Club in 1870, which remains the oldest playing through club in New Zealand.
Isherwood went on to found the Athletic Rugby Club in 1878, these two original clubs forming the basis of the Wellington Rugby Football Union in 1879, and the original black and gold colours also going on to become the colours of the City and of all Wellington sporting teams.
The Poneke Football Club was founded in 1883 by Sidney Nicholls, who then went on to found the Petone club two years later in 1885, and the grassroots game in Wellington as we know it today was being shaped. The first ever Senior title championship was contested in 1886 and continues uninterrupted to this day.
Petone is Wellington’s most successful club and has been Wellington Premier Champion 38 times between 1895 and 2005. In addition it has won the Club Championship on no fewer than 42 occasions between 1922 and 2006. Poneke has won or shared 20 Wellington Championships and won the first three titles contested between 1886-1888, the Cobb and Co Trophy and, as was tradition back then, was awarded the new trophy outright in 1889.
Over the years there have been amalgamations, mergers, dynasties and struggles, and the fortunes of all clubs have ebbed and flowed accordingly. Today all 18 clubs are competing for an assortment of cups and trophies with historical significance across the different grades, with the flagship competition being the Jubilee Cup, contested every year since 1929.
Other notable titles played for include the Swindale Shield for the Premier first round, the Hardham Cup for the Premier Two second round and the Victoria Tavern Trophy for Women’s rugby, as well as the Dewar Shield at the end of the season for the club with the leading aggregate of points. In 2005 the inaugural Andy Leslie Trophy was awarded to Northern United for finishing first at the end of the of the Jubilee Cup round-robin and qualifying top for the semi-finals.