The Te Papapa-Onehunga Rugby Club of Auckland will now be able to field a team in premier competition this season after successfully appealing a 12-month ban.
Earlier this month, an independently appointed judicial committee ruled the club was to be suspended from premier rugby for the entirety of the 2017 season after fielding a player, Daniel Havili, banned for life for assaulting a referee in 2011, on what was said to be three occasions last year.
Te Papapa-Onehunga appealed the severity of the ruling and after fronting an independent appeals committee, the ban was reduced to 33 weeks, back-dated to August 13, 2016, the date of the initial judicial hearing.
The outcome means the club will not be eligible to play in the pre-season Waka Nathan Challenge Cup competition, which kicks off on March 18, but can field a team in the first round of premier play, which starts on April 8. However, they will not be able to accrue any competition points in that first round. Even if they did qualify for the top eight, they would not be eligible for the Gallaher Shield playoff rounds anyway as they do not fulfil Auckland Rugby's criteria on playing numbers and senior teams.
The main point remains that the club will be playing premiers. A season's ban would surely have seen a player exodus, which would have been a shame after much progress was made on the field by Te Papapa-Onehunga in 2016 after their merger with Mt Wellington to form Maungarua was discontinued. Though they did not make the top eight, they were very competitive in most matches.
Chairman Chris Skinner was unwilling to go into further detail about the 2016 circumstances, and the appeal.
"I'm not going to get drawn into anything. (Getting back into premier play) is what we focused on. We want to get past everything and start rebuilding the club," he says.
There was some doubt over whether the player took the field on three occasions or just once, but the club is said to have sacked the coach at the time, Mana Tesa Pongi, when they learned of his actions. In short, there was a feeling that the club was hard-done by with a lengthy ban due to the actions of the coach.
Auckland Rugby chief executive Jarrod Bear was pleased to see the saga resolved.
"A very clear and transparent process has been followed through the independent judicial and appeals process. Now attention can be focused on preparing and delivering on what promises to be an exciting year of club rugby. It is a timely reminder to all club and school teams that competition rules must be adhered as it is paramount to create a safe and enjoyable rugby experience for all," says Bear.
Waiheke remains the sole Auckland club which does not field a team in the premier grade, with Roskill Districts now absorbed by Suburbs in a merger.