Touch: Tourney attracts big names

By Gary Hamilton-Irvine

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Whakatane's Benji Marshall (left) represented the star-studded Baa Baaz touch team at the annual Whakatane Touch Tournament. Photo/Ben Fraser
Whakatane's Benji Marshall (left) represented the star-studded Baa Baaz touch team at the annual Whakatane Touch Tournament. Photo/Ben Fraser

Hometown hero Benji Marshall was among the players razzling and dazzling at the 28th Whakatane Touch Tournament.

Held across 18 fields and four parks, the tournament is the biggest touch competition in New Zealand and attracted about 1000 players at the weekend.

The open men's competition was taken out by Counties Manukau side Playin Up while the open women's competition was won by Bullets, another team from Counties Manukau.

The star-studded Baa Baaz team entered the tournament for their 16th year featuring big- name rugby league and union players such as Marshall, Rotorua's Liam Messam, Piri Weepu, and Logan Swann.

Tournament director George Rogers, who helped start the competition in 1986, said they must have had about 5000 people at the event on Friday and Saturday, either playing or spectating. He said the Baa Baaz team won all three of their games in pool play but decided not to play in the knockout stages of the men's restricted competition.

Rogers said they first started the tournament to give locals a competition to play in after Christmas. "I was the president of the Whakatane Touch Association at the time and [the tournament] was started up in an era, in the 1980s, when local whanau had gone away to the main centres and had come back for Christmas. We had all these people running around and touch had just become very popular. We thought we would set it up for the holiday makers and local whanau."

As a result, it is always held in early January. Since 1990 it has featured between 70 and 72 teams per year.

Rogers said it was a well-organised event and was really well supported by locals, which helped make it a success.

The tournament included a shoot-out competition on Friday and the proper competition on Saturday. The main competition saw teams compete for titles in the open men's, open women's, restricted men's, restricted women's and restricted mixed divisions. The restricted divisions mean you cannot field New Zealand representative touch players in your team.

Whakatane Touch Association president Sharon Walker said it was a great weekend.

The event included three teams from the South Island and two teams from Australia.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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