For more than two decades the Super 8 Rugby Championship has helped mould the future stars of rugby. Sports reporter David Beck looks at how the Central North Island competition has transformed rugby in the area. In part one of this multi-part series we look at why the competition was established, the way it has challenged the dominance of Auckland secondary schools at a national level and find out from those who have had a first hand taste of the competition about how it prepares young stars for men's rugby beyond secondary school.

A league of their own

Twenty-one years ago the powers that be at eight central North Island secondary schools decided schoolboy rugby needed a shake-up, a revolution.

As a result the Super 8 Rugby Championship was born.

Having dominated their local first XV competitions for years, Rotorua Boys' High School, Tauranga Boys' College, Gisborne Boys' High School, Hamilton Boys' High School, Hastings Boys' High School, Napier Boys' High School, New Plymouth Boys' High School and Palmerston North Boys' High School created a league of their own.

Advertisement

All eight schools were already renowned for their pedigree in rugby. All eight have won the Moascar Cup - the Ranfurly Shield of schoolboy rugby.

The Super 8 model has since evolved to include a range of sports and cultural activities in which the eight schools annually compete.

In 1997, Rotorua Boys' High School principal Chris Grinter knew that if anyone was going to break the shackles of Auckland-school dominance at a national level something had to change.

"There were two reasons for it," Grinter says.

"The first was that the traditional competition model whereby sport was based on the province you were in, namely the Bay of Plenty, became a little bit outdated. So we wanted to seek the competition needed to grow and develop.

"The second reason was that we wanted to rival the competition that the Auckland schools had whereby they had high quality competition across all the sports, week in, week out. Super 8, as a model, gave us that equivalent.

Chris Grinter gives an insight into how and why the Super 8 First XV Championship was established and what the benefits of the competition are.

"I literally called a meeting of the eight principals and headmasters and said 'are you interested in a concept like this?' We were all on the same page and it has been a really strong-knit, harmonious relationship throughout the years."

Grinter says the effect the competition has had on rugby in the central North Island has been "huge".

"It has allowed our teams to have a level of competition which means they can compete on the national stage. If you take the Chiefs group of schools, Wesley College, Rotorua and Hamilton Boys' high Schools, if you look at the national school winners over the years the [Super 8] competition has been going, those are the top three performing schools.

"It certainly works and it shows that within that small group of schools we are very competitive, not just in rugby but in other sports too.

"Super 8 has actually been more than that. We compete across cultural activities as a group of schools and we undertake professional development and the like as a group too, it's a bigger concept than just sport."

He says secondary school rugby has changed dramatically in the last 20 years.

"When I first came to Rotorua I coached the first XV for 12 years and at the start of that time the competition within the Bay of Plenty was pretty intense with probably 10 or 12 schools.

"But now the gap has widened and teenagers are making different choices in sport. The competition format and model has needed to change and adapt with that."

Another game changer has been the increased regularity with which professional sports teams are picking up players straight out of secondary school - something which the level of exposure the players get in the Super 8 competition has contributed to.

"We probably have close to 10 boys leave our school each year and go into some sort of professional contract. Twenty years ago that was pretty unheard of.

"If you're performing well at Super 8, you have the attention of the selectors. Guys like [All Black representatives and former Rotorua Boys' High School students] Liam Messam and Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, they leave school and go into fulltime professional sport."

Before he was a 20-test All Black, Nathan Harris honed his craft at Tauranga Boys' College and played in the Super 8 Championship. Photo / Getty Images
Before he was a 20-test All Black, Nathan Harris honed his craft at Tauranga Boys' College and played in the Super 8 Championship. Photo / Getty Images

Old boys thriving

As well as making rugby stronger in the central North Island as a whole, the Super 8 Championship has done wonders in terms of providing young players with the tools required to make the step-up to men's rugby.

One example is 27-year-old Bay of Plenty, Chiefs and All Blacks hooker Nathan Harris, who recently re-signed with New Zealand Rugby through to 2021.

Before he was a 20-test All Black, Harris honed his craft at Tauranga Boys' College and played in the Super 8 Championship and says it is a good way to prepare young men for the pressures of professional rugby.

"It's a pretty tough competition in terms of travelling around, getting billeted out, different environments and the calibre of guys we used to come up against. A lot of those guys are in our team today and you get to play against them in a lot of Super Rugby teams.

"It's definitely a stepping stone to New Zealand schools, playing well for your club and potentially [New Zealand] under-20s."

It has been 20 years since Harris' old school Tauranga Boys' won their only Super 8 title and he would love to see them do it again.

"It's been a long time between drinks for them so it would be great stuff to see those boys flying high and getting some of those cups back in our cabinets."

Harris says going up against some of the Auckland schools at national tournaments was like coming up against the All Blacks of schoolboy rugby.

"When I was coming through was when they started first putting those Super 8 games on TV ... it's helping to grow New Zealand rugby as a whole."

Another player who has benefited from the Super 8 competition is Poukohe Sorenson who finished up at Rotorua Boys' High School last year and is now playing Baywide Premier rugby for 2018 runner-ups Te Puna.

Former Rotorua Boys' High School first XV player Poukohe Sorenson is playing Baywide Premier rugby for Te Puna this season. Photo / Andrew Warner
Former Rotorua Boys' High School first XV player Poukohe Sorenson is playing Baywide Premier rugby for Te Puna this season. Photo / Andrew Warner

Sorenson says the bond forged between secondary school rugby players is second to none.

"[The highlights were] just training and playing together with all the boys, that's the best thing, and the school makes sure it's not just about rugby.

"Everything we do, we get told it has to be off the field as well and to be good young men, not just good rugby players."

He says one of the biggest pressures on secondary school rugby players is trying to make representative teams and be noticed for higher honours.

"It's the fastest way to get your name out there during school, making New Zealand rep teams. There are definitely some talented players coming through [in the Super 8]. Especially from Hamilton and those top schools."

Playing hooker for Te Puna, he is right in the thick of the action and says the biggest difference between that and schoolboy rugby is the physicality.

"Premier rugby is more physical whereas school rugby is probably a little bit faster. You're coming up against men in the prems, you don't come up against men in school. But it's all in your head really.


This year Sorenson is in the Bay of Plenty Rugby union's rugby academy and will likely be in the province's under-19 team which will look to defend its Jock Hobbs Memorial Trophy later this year.

He still follows his old school team closely and when asked if he thinks this year's crop of Rotorua Boys' High School rugby players has what it takes to win another Super 8 title he is full of confidence.

"Definitely, they're going to win the Top Four (nationals) too. It would be huge if they did."

Hamilton the dominant force

In the first six years of Super 8 rugby it was the Bay of Plenty and Hawke's Bay schools that led the pack.

Rotorua Boys' High School won the first ever Super 8 title in 1998. They also went on to be crowned joint national champions with Otago Boys' High School in the same year - an early indicator that the new system was working.

Tauranga Boys' won their only title the following year, in 1999, and Rotorua Boys' won their second, and last, title in 2001.

Napier Boys' won their three titles in 2000, 2002 and 2003. Hastings Boys' and Palmerston North Boys' won in 2004 and 2005 respectively.

While Hamilton Boys' did not win a Super 8 title until 2006, they have been virtually unstoppable ever since, claiming the title in 11 of the next 13 years, although they shared it with Hastings Boys' in 2017 after the final finished in a 12-all draw.

Hamilton Boys' High School have been the dominant force in Super 8 Rugby with a record 11 titles. Photo / Getty Images
Hamilton Boys' High School have been the dominant force in Super 8 Rugby with a record 11 titles. Photo / Getty Images

Hastings Boys' won outright in 2016 and Gisborne Boys' won their only title in 2011.

Hamilton Boys' were unbeaten in three of their title-winning seasons, while Hastings Boys' were unbeaten in two of their three.

Since 1998, Super 8 schools have won or been joint winners in 10 of 21 National First XV Rugby Championships. Super 8 schools have played in 14 of the last 21 finals.

Super 8 First XV Rugby Championship Winners

1998:

Rotorua Boys' High School

1999:

Tauranga Boys' High School

2000:

Napier Boys' High School

2001:

Rotorua Boys' High School

2002:

Napier Boys' High School

2003:

Napier Boys' High School

2004:

Hastings Boys' High School

2005:

Palmerston North Boys' High School

2006:

Hamilton Boys' High School

2007:

Hamilton Boys' High School

2008:

Hamilton Boys' High School

2009:

Hamilton Boys' High School

2010:

Hamilton Boys' High School

2011:

Gisborne Boys' High School

2012:

Hamilton Boys' High School

2013:

Hamilton Boys' High School

2014:

Hamilton Boys' High School

2015:

Hamilton Boys' High School

2016:

Hastings Boys' High School

2017:

Hastings Boys' High School/Hamilton Boys' High School (1st=)

2018:

Hamilton Boys' High School

Tally of Super 8 Wins

Hamilton Boys' High School:

11

Napier Boys' High School:

3

Hastings Boys' High School:

3

Rotorua Boys' High School:

2

Palmerston North Boys' High School:

1

Gisborne Boys' High School:

1

Tauranga Boys' College:

1

National First XV Rugby Championship Final Appearances by Super 8 Schools Since 1998

1998:

Rotorua Boys' High School drew with Otago Boys' High School

2001:

Rotorua Boys' High School lost to Wesley College

2002:

Napier Boys' High School drew with Rotorua Boys' High School

2003:

Rotorua Boys' High School beat Napier Boys' High School

2007:

Gisborne Boys' High School beat Mt Albert Grammar School

2008:

Hamilton Boys' High School drew with De La Salle College

2009:

Hamilton boys' High School beat St Bede's College

2010:

Hamilton Boys' High School lost Mt Albert Grammar School

2013:

Hamilton Boys' High School beat St Kentigern College

2014:

Hamilton Boys' High School drew with Scots College

2015:

Rotorua Boys' High School beat Scots College

2016:

Hastings Boys' High School lost to Mt Albert Grammar School

2017:

Hastings Boys' High School beat Hamilton Boys' High School

2018:

Napier Boys' High School lost to St Peter's College