New Zealand has more than 500 rugby clubs which makes selecting a 'First XV of classics', an endeavour sure to stir spirited discussion. Our selection criteria was based on All Blacks produced, championships won, history, uniqueness and rivalry.
We have tried to avoid, where possible, Marist clubs, High School Old Boys' and Varsity clubs because they represent massive institutions (the Catholic church; traditional single-sex state education networks; universities) rather than community.
Christchurch HSOB warrant a place on the list due to their unique reputation of being a first five factory and there's a certain varsity club that also makes an appearance through sheer weight of All Blacks and its indelible part of that particular province's rugby history.
The list is subjective and those clubs who feel aggrieved by their omission should write in for a potential redux in 2021.
Our First XV of classic Kiwi clubs will be rolled out three a week over five weeks.
Yesterday: Petone Rugby Club
Today: Manurewa Rugby Club
By Joel Kulasingham
"Back in my day, club rugby used to contain All Blacks," says Kere Maihi, the nostalgic Manurewa Rugby Club president who in his heyday was a powerful prop who loved a good weekend tussle against the game's best players.
It's probably a common lament in club rugby circles these days, an unfortunate reality of rugby's professional era and the corporatisation of the All Blacks. But Manurewa's history, like many clubs across the country, is about far more than just top rugby internationals.
When asked about his beloved club – Maihi's been involved with Manurewa since first playing in 1979 – he gushed about its rich history: the home of Māori All Blacks legend Pat Walsh; the intense South Auckland rivalries over the years with Papakura, Ardmore and Pukekohe; the team that birthed the tallest All Black ever (at the time) in Mark Cooksley who stood at a towering 2.05m.
"There would be a lot of finals that you play in where the intensity, the satisfaction, the meaning is every bit as much as any All Black test," says Maihi.
"We have a huge history and we have a huge history of players. We've got close to 30 internationals. We have a history of players who were absolute leaders and the absolute best in their position. So our club is built on that history.
"We may have modern day players who are the next best thing. However, they pale in comparison with what's gone before them. And the good thing about it is we all realise that. All the modern players realise that we're honouring the jersey of those who have gone before us."
In the Counties Manukau area, there's few more historic or successful clubs than Manurewa. The club is a pillar of the community that spans beyond the rugby field. It has won more championships than any in the region. Next year, it will celebrate its 100th anniversary since its formation.
Despite its illustrious history, it is perhaps the club's status as a women's rugby powerhouse in recent years that offers an insight into the persisting value of 'Rewa rugby both on and off the field – and how the good old days might not necessarily be a forgone era.
As the club's proud president shared many of those stories of old, one recent memory popped to mind about a charged up clash against a fierce rival.
"I watched a women's final six years ago where I finally understood that the women put as much time, effort and blood and guts into the game as men do," Maihi admits.
It was a revelation that happened during a women's final between Manurewa and College Rifles, one that helped him understand the beauty of the women's game.
"The women's game is a different game from the men's game," Maihi says.
"The men's game is very aggressive; you have to be imposing upon the opposition. Whereas the women they seem to me to rely on their skill and their fitness and their desire to play the game.
"So they're playing pure rugby I guess whereas the men try and do it in a more underhanded way."
One of those exponents of Manurewa's brand of "pure rugby" is Black Ferns speedster Renee Wickliffe, a Manurewa Rugby Club centurion who has gone on to become one of the best wingers in women's rugby.
After moving from Paeroa to Auckland in 2006, she discovered a passion for the sport through the club. For Wickliffe, her time at Manurewa was not only invaluable to her rugby development, but also an experience that she says might've saved her life.
"Living in a small community there wasn't really much going on here. I grew up around alcohol, drugs and all that sorts of stuff, and I just thought that was kind of normal. But I knew that wasn't something that I wanted to pursue in my career," she says.
"So one thing I needed to do was make it out of Paeroa and that's why I moved to Auckland to stay with my aunty, got away from that, joined rugby and pretty much that was it.
"Moving away and playing rugby pretty much saved I guess what I would say is my life really."
At the rugby club, she found sisterhood and a sense of community, as well as her first taste of competitive rugby.
"They welcomed me with two arms – they were really supportive. I think just playing in a big comp too I guess was an eye opener for me living in a small community.
"I remember back when I started it was just turn up and have fun, rugby's there you know. And now when you're playing against top teams like Marist and College Rifles and all those teams are quite good, then young girls get to understand that it's actually a serious game and we want to put our name on that winning shield."
These days, Manurewa's women's side is one of the strongest in the region and has developed a handful of Black Ferns, including Wickliffe's fiancée and Ferns teammate Portia Woodman.
"Statistically women's rugby is the fastest growth area in New Zealand rugby," says Maihi. "We're fortunate enough that we've had our women's team in our club for 25 years.
"We have been in I think six finals in the last nine years. So we're proud of our women and proud of what they do."
The days of All Blacks and Black Ferns playing grassroots may well be a thing of the past – although Black Ferns do still occasionally don the Manurewa uniform – but the spirit of grassroots rugby still remains in South Auckland, a rich history that continues to be written.
"We wanted to win at the time and whoever was on that field, we kind of just played with our heart," Wickliffe says. "I guess that's what's shown throughout the years [at the club] – whether you're a Black Fern or not.
"I know that there are a lot of kids here with a lot of talent, they just need role models like myself to come back and share their story and tell them that it is possible."