Anticipation is in the air this week at rugby training fields and clubrooms around the region, ahead of the start of senior lower grade competitions kicking off this Saturday.
First round competitions starting this weekend are the Colts, Women’s and U85kgs grades, while Presidents (non-competition) take the field for the first time in 2019 and First Grade/Reserve Grade have their first afternoon of grading fixtures (competitions starting 27 April).
There is a Gala Day start for the Women’s competition at Ngati Toa Domain. The Women will play for the first round Rebecca Liua’ana Trophy before splitting off into two divisions for the second round. Click here for more details about the Women’s upcoming season.
A 15-club Colts first round competition kicks off this Saturday, with the top eight teams from last season playing for the Division 1 Paris Memorial Trophy and the bottom seven for the Division 2 JRD Cup.
The clubs in the two Colts grades are:
Colts Division 1: Hutt Old Boys Marist, Marist St Pats, Northern United, Old Boys University Green, Paremata-Plimmerton, Petone, Tawa, Upper Hutt Rams
Colts Division 2: Avalon, Johnsonville, Old Boys University Black, Oriental-Rongotai, Poneke, Wainuiomata, Wellington
The change from last year’s first round is Paremata-Plimmerton replacing Ories in Division 1.
Marist St Pats are the defending first round Paris Memorial Trophy winners. MSP won all seven matches in last year’s first round, to finish ahead of OBU who they beat 17-10 in the round-robin.
OBU went on to beat HOBM 57-0 in the final of the second round John E Kelly Cup competition, maintaining their overall dominance of recent seasons in this grade.
The Ories Colts, who dropped down to division 2 for the second half of last season, won the second tier Colts final.
Over the past few seasons, the Colts grade has proven to be one of the more hotly contested competitions in Wellington club rugby and many players graduate from this to the Premier grade.
As always, the Junior Billygoats will be the team to beat in Colts this year. They have won all their pre-season games against other clubs the Upper Hutt Rams and Norths and against the Wellington College First XV (for the annual Letica Cup) and had a tough work-out against a touring Argentinian side. OBU Green used 52 players last year, so all club’s depth will be tested as the season progresses.
The opening round Division 1 Paris Memorial Trophy matches have defending second round champions OBU Green taking on HOBM Green at Ian Galloway Park in a re-match of last year’s final, Tawa and Norths meeting at Lyndhurst Park, the Upper Hutt Rams and Petone playing at Maoribank Park and MSP and Paremata-Plimmerton lining up at Evans Bay Park.
In the three opening round Division 2 matches, Ories and Wellington play at the Polo Ground, Poneke and Johnsonville are at Kilbirnie Park and Avalon and Wainuiomata clash at Fraser Park. OBU Black has the bye.
Like the Colts, arguably some of the keenest rivalries and closest matches in Wellington club rugby are found in the U85kg grade.
In recent seasons, this grade has been dominated by teams such as the Tawa Titans and MSP Blue and before that the Poneke Dogs of War. Last year it could be said there was a changing of the guard, with the Upper Hutt Rams emerging from the Fraser Park mud as season-ending champions to beat the Avalon Wolves 17-13 in the Paul Potiki Shield final that went to extra-time.
The Wolves had won all 10 of their first-round matches to win the first round JC Bowl, with the Rams second.
On Saturday, 12 teams line up for the first round of the JC Bowl, one more than last year. The big news is that the Tawa Titans have dropped out, while Petone and the OBU Spartans return. There is a full round-robin competition before the teams split into two divisions to contest the Division 1 Paul Potiki Shield and Division 2 Tony O’Brien Shield.
The 12 teams in the U85kg competition are: Avalon, Eastbourne, Hutt Old Boys Marist, Johnsonville, Marist St Pats, Old Boys University Scallywags, Old Boys University Spartans, Paraparaumu, Petone, Upper Hutt Rams, Wellington, Western Suburbs.
In this weekend’s lightweight season opener, second round champions the Rams square off against the OBU Scallywags at Te Whaea, while Avalon host Eastbourne. In other matches, Wellington and Petone meet at Prince of Wales, Wests and Paraparaumu collide at Ian Galloway Park, MSP and the OBU Spartans are at the Evans Bay Artificial and HOBM and Johnsonville do battle at the Hutt Rec.
First Grade and Reserve Grade
Following two weekends of grading rounds, the 23 teams entered in the First Grade and Reserve Grade will split and contest those first round competitions with the first round on 27 April.
From grading, the top seven or eight teams (to be confirmed) will contest the first round First Grade Thompson Memorial Cup and the remainder will play in the Reserve Grade Division 1 and 2 competitions.
At the top end, the Hutt Old Boys Marist Barbarians are the defending first and second round First Grade champions, while the Upper Hutt Thirsty Rams drank from the winner’s cup of the Reserve Grade last year.
The 23 teams starting this week’s grading rounds are:
Old Boys University (five teams), Upper Hutt Rams (three teams), Stokes Valley (two teams), Marist St Pats (two teams), Poneke (two teams), Avalon, Hutt Old Boys Marist, Johnsonville, Northern United, Paremata-Plimmerton, Petone, Tawa, Wainuiomata, Western Suburbs.
Twelve teams have entered this year’s non-competition President’s grade competition, these being:
Avalon, Hutt Old Boys Marist, Johnsonville, Marist St Pats, Northern United Red, Northern United White, Oriental-Rongotai, Paremata-Plimmerton, Tawa, Upper Hutt Rams, Wainuiomata and Wellington.