New Zealand Rugby is marking 40 years of the NPC with a nod to the past in the form of the newly restored Rugby Cup, which will be up for grabs in the Premiership section.
The Rugby Cup was the inaugural NPC trophy in 1976, lifted by winning Bay of Plenty captain Tuck Waaka.
Now 68 and looking sprightly, Waaka was on hand earlier today at the Mitre 10 Cup season launch at Auckland's Eden Rugby Club. He was a loose forward who kicked the odd goal and was good enough to play for the Maori All Blacks. That Bay of Plenty side was decidedly useful and included the ilk of Greg Rowlands, Eddie Stokes, Jim Maniapoto and Alan McNaughton. They drew good crowds, despite the All Blacks being in South Africa at the time.
"Our strength was we had a very mobile side," says Waaka, who lives in Whangarei and professes to be a supporter of Northland, Bay of Plenty and Otago, all Championship sides in 2016.
"We all knitted, despite the union being far-flung. The memories and friendships we had in that team remain. We all got on and agreed to play a certain style of rugby."
Waaka would never have guessed that he would be not only the first Bay of Plenty skipper to hold the NPC trophy aloft, but also the last. In 1977 he had moved to North Auckland, about to embark on a fine, Ranfurly Shield, period for the union of the Goings. Waaka played until 1980 for the cambridge blues. Bay of Plenty, conversely, were relegated to the second division north championship and have never consistently challenged the giants since, barring a brief but stirring Shield tenure in 2004 which saw them reach the NPC semifinals.
"Super Rugby has moved players away from their (home) provinces and they tend not to come back," says Waaka. "The Mitre 10 Cup, though, is fantastic because it once again puts a light on the provinces."
The cup is said to hold 33 cans (of beer) and Canterbury coach Scott Robertson joked that he was anxious to try and verify that in late October. As a player, Robertson tasted success with it in 1997 and 2001 for Canterbury, as did current Tasman coach Leon MacDonald, while Auckland coach Nick White drunk out of the trophy in 2003 and '05 as an NPC winner.
It was gathering dust at NZ Rugby headquarters in Wellington, having last been paraded when Justin Collins held it aloft at Eden Park in 2005 when Auckland won the last NPC before the Air New Zealand Cup - the forerunner to the ITM Cup - was inaugurated.
James Dwan was responsible for the reconstruction of the Rugby Cup, known colloquially as the 'punch bowl.'
The Mitre 10 Cup kicks off on August 18 with North Harbour hosting Counties Manukau in a crossover fixture.