Set to start just their 15th season, Morrinsville Sports find themselves defending Waikato champions following their pulsating grand final victory in 2009.
The club was formed in 1996 through the amalgamation of fierce rivals Old Boys and Marist, a marriage of necessity due to low playing numbers in the township. Neighbouring club Kereone, once a powerhouse of New Zealand club rugby (fielding three All Blacks, Ponty Reid, Don and Ian Clarke through the 1950s), declined the opportunity to make it a three-way merger, preferring to go it alone.
Morrinsville rugby icon Britt Brewer (a life member of Sports and founding member of St Joseph’s) respected the Kereone decision.
“Having the two clubs based in town provides more options for local players which has to be a good thing,” he explained.
As well as fielding two senior squads, Sports offer U21s, U19s, Presidents grade (over 35s) an U85kg side for the first time this season, plus junior grades. The club also runs netball, touch, squash and indoor bowls.
Based at Campbell Park, the spiritual home of Morrinsville rugby, Sports and Kereone both share the impressive playing reserve. Sports headquarters are a two-storey building consisting of changing shed and warm-up area in the basement (also the setting for many raucous court sessions) with access to two squash courts. Upstairs the recently refurbished bar area has freshly painted sky blue walls, rustic polished timber leaners, an indoor balcony for squash enthusiasts and double doors leading outside to a deck providing end-on views of the three playing fields.
Proudly displayed around the bar are an impressive selection of Chiefs, Fiji and various New Zealand representative match-worn shirts given to the club by past and present members. Adjacent to the main serving area is one of Brendon Leonard’s All Blacks test jerseys; a video of the actual presentation can be viewed on YouTube.
The success of Morrinsville Sports can be attributed to the tireless work of many former players who have actively stayed involved after hanging up their boots. While many clubs suffer from a dearth of the ‘over 35s demographic’ who for various reasons have left the game in their droves, Morrinsville Sports management committees are full of younger faces. Sports’ reputation for being the friendliest club in the Waikato keeps them coming back.
The city-based contingent who travel from Hamilton to play for Sports get on famously with the locals, while visiting teams seem to revel in the Morrinsville hospitality. Culturally the club is a diverse melting pot and with former Counties NPC and New Zealand Sevens star Waisiki Masirewa taking over the head coaching role from Darrin Stevenson, there will be no shortage of fun or flair on and off the field.
Former player and senior coach Dean Gage once famously stated the goal was to put the ‘club back into club rugby’, something Morrinsville Sports have certainly achieved with flying colours. Thursday night initiatives like the ‘bottle in the bag’ kept the bar humming when a mystery spirit bottle was placed inside a bag and sold over the bar for two bucks a double. The unlucky recipient who emptied the bottle then had to fork out for the next one although did get to choose the new flavour before concealing the identity back in the bag. This little escapade helped create tremendous enjoyment and developed club spirit. The club that plays together on and off the field stays together and this bond solidifies the troops when the going gets tough. The sudden passing of senior coach Darrin Stevenson last season certainly galvanised the club’s resolve, fuelling its incredible championship success.
From humble beginnings in 1996, the club has now fielded numerous players of considerable pedigree including Waikato greats Duane Monkley and Rhys Ellison and All Blacks Chresten Davis, Keith Robinson, Sione Lauaki, Sitiveni Sivivatu and Brendon Leonard. The premier team is captained by current Waikato No 8 Alex Bradley. A real highlight for the club in 2007 was the triple selection of Vesi Raulini (Fiji), Dwayne Sweeney (NZ Maori) and Leonard (All Blacks) all in the same week.
Always looking to the future, Sports place great emphasis on their junior playing stocks. Parents know their children are well looked after in a safe and supportive environment. While seven buses of supporters left Campbell Park bound for last season’s final, one entire coach load was reserved solely for the club’s junior players. With that kind of consideration shown for their young, Morrinsville Sports is well on the way to being the benchmark of success in Waikato club rugby.
2009 Waikato premier final:
Morrinsville Sports 26 Fraser Tech 18
The 2009 season will be long remembered by all who have had any involvement with Morrinsville Sports since their inception 14 seasons ago. Spurred on by the memory of its recently departed coach and fanatical crowd support, the club won its first Breweries Shield premier championship final, the symbol of rugby Waikato club supremacy.
As a result, Sports have sounded a warning to the big guns of Waikato club rugby, Fraser Tech, Old Boys, Marist and Hautapu, that a new contender has arrived to upset the vice-like grip the big clubs have had on the Breweries Shield during the last two decades.
Despite the absence of their All Blacks halfback Brendon Leonard, the Morrinsville machine delivered an inspired performance achieved through passion, teamwork and good old-fashioned guts.
In a special moment, the team took time out on the middle of Waikato Stadium to mark the recent passing of coach Darrin Stevenson, alongside members of his immediate family.
DARRIN ‘STYVIE’ STEVENSON
After a lengthy playing career including seven senior grand final appearances for Fraser Tech, former Waikato NPC prop Darrin Stevenson took over the reins at Morrinsville Sports as head coach in 2008.
Despite a gruff exterior, the barrel-chested Stevenson immediately endeared himself to the Morrinsville faithful with his sense of humour and gregarious nature. Rookie bookends benefitted immensely from his tutelage, spending many a Saturday evening on the clubhouse deck packing down against ‘Styvie’ who, beer in hand, happily instructed them in the nuances of the dark arts.
Tragically the 41-year-old club favourite passed away suddenly two weeks before his side’s epic Breweries Shield Grand Final victory in 2009. Stevenson always knew his side would become champion, once it learned to believe in itself.
All the fixtures you need to plan your viewing pleasure!
Not all our own way for NZ teams
Pressure is on Benji, but shouldn't we remember SBW went to France (Toulon) for 2 years to learn the game.
With all of the news around concussion do you think there should be safety measures in place for players to ensure they don't play on after a head know? How and who should police that?
With the start of club rugby upon us, how can we maintain the value of the clubs in player pathways and community spirit.