The wait is over. After the start of the Baywide rugby season was disrupted by a global pandemic and nationwide lockdown, senior club rugby finally gets underway this weekend. However, the competition format has been shaken up. David Beck reports.
Usually at this time of year, the Baywide rugby competition would just be getting spicy. With about a month left in the season, teams would be battling for playoff spots or fighting for survival.
The season kicks off this weekend but it will look a little different.
Post-lockdown, to ease the strain of travelling to play all over the region, the Bay of Plenty Rugby Union has opted for to split the competition into it's Western, Central and Eastern sub-unions.
Central Bay of Plenty rugby manager Lipi Sinnot said this was an opportunity for Rotorua clubs to restore some mana. When Rotorua clubs come up against one another, fierce pride and passion is a given so there is plenty of excitement about the match-ups on offer.
"The Central Bay of Plenty Union wants to build some momentum and get back to where we were. If we can do that, I think the next few years will be really good for us. It's an opportunity now for us to have a look at what our local clubs can do.
"I'm actually excited, there might be some high scores but that's not the point at this time, I think this is going to bring a bit of pride back to Rotorua rugby which is something that's been missing."
Sinnot expected every game in the Central competition to be hard-fought. The teams will play 10 rounds before the top sides play off for the Banner, one of Rotorua's oldest rugby prizes. In previous years, Central Bay of Plenty teams have played in a preseason championship to decide the winners of the Rotorua Banner.
"I think we are still trying to get our own style back again, with the influx of different types of players and coaches. I think after this first week there will be a lot of excitement.
"Just before lockdown, Whakarewarewa and Rotoiti played each other and it was brutal. It wasn't the classiest game but it was two proud Māori clubs just giving it a crack. When two Māori clubs get together it's ferocious. I expect a lot of game to be like that this year.
"I don't think the scores matter so much, what does matter is we have an opportunity to get out mana back."
He said Whakarewarewa, having been the sole Rotorua club in Premier 1 last year, would have a big target on their backs as other clubs looked to prove themselves against the best.
Bay of Plenty Rugby Union community rugby manager Pat Rae said from what he was seeing, there was a lot of excitement around getting back on the field.
"I went to a training for one of our clubs the other night and their premier and development teams were playing against each other. If the way that game was played is anything to go by, we have a lot to look forward to. It was fierce, these two teams were going hard at each other.
"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see they are just pumped to get back on the field. I'd never watched a session between two teams from the same club where they smashed each other like that."
The Western competition also kicks off on Saturday while the Eastern draw is still being sorted and will kickoff next weekend.
A Team of five million
In an open letter to the rugby community, Bay of Plenty Rugby Union CEO Mike Rogers and chairman Paul Owen thanked "the entire population of the Bay of Plenty Region and all of New Zealand for the outstanding work we all did in not only flattening the Covid-19 infection curve but virtually eliminating all community transmission of this illness from our shores."
"When the country was taken to alert level 4 on Wednesday, March 25 it looked like all sport would be lost for 2020. As a result of your hard work, we are now only days away from seeing rugby back on our club and school rugby fields.
"Our sport is owned and run by our community and you have all performed outstandingly, given the tough and uncertain environment that we've navigated ourselves through."
Bay of Plenty Rugby Draw - Saturday, June 27
Central Bay of Plenty:
(All kickoff 2.45pm)
Whakarewarewa v Marist St Michael's at Puarenga Park
Ngongotahā v Rotoiti at Ngongotahā Domain
Waikite v Kahukura at Bellvue Road
Western Bay of Plenty:
Tauranga Sports v Te Puna at Tauranga Domain
Rangiuru v Greerton Marist at Centennial Park
Rangataua v Arataki at Te Ariki Park
Te Puke v Mount Maunganui at Murray Salt Stadium