Varsity aiming for 21st Manawatū rugby championship

Varsity A players walk off triumphant after beating College Old Boys last Saturday.

The Massey University rugby team, Varsity A, are finalists in the Manawatū club rugby championship, playing on Saturday for what could  be their 21st win in their 90-year history.

The “Sky Blues” take on last season's beaten finalists, Feilding Yellows, for the Hankins Shield after recording six straight wins, including over Yellows, last year’s winners Feilding Old Boys Oroua, and top-of-the-table College Old Boys, who they beat in the semi-final last weekend 35-6.

Just over seven weeks ago the season was not looking promising. Varsity were embarrassingly beaten at home 16-9 by Te Kawau in front of a large crowd of supporters and former players who were there to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the club.

Varsity captain Kirk Tufuga, Bachelor of Sport and Exercise (2014) and now a student recruitment adviser at the Manawatū campus, says it was that setback that spurred the players into action.

It coincided with coaches Scott Lewis and Blair van Stipriaan getting all of the main men back from injuries and suddenly Varsity's confidence was restored. It would be a rare feat to come from fourth qualifiers to champions, a fitting dedication to the Massey College Originals of 1929.

Varsity have featured in the semifinals every year since 2009 and the only year they didn't since 2004 was in 2008.

Tufuga was there when Varsity won the Hankins final in 2016, beating Kia Toa 18-17, as were his brothers props Sam and Max and midfielder Ueta. They have a core of experience, from Manawatu hooker Nick Grogan to midfield back Hamish Northcott, flanker Doug Juszczyk and lock Tom Hughes.

On the exciting youthful side are giant prop Antonio Walker-Leawere, locks Mickey Woolliams and Ian Burmeister, loose forward Dylan Hall, halfback Potene Rolls-Paewai, utility Jayden Falcon, wing Korie Winters, fullback Te Rangitira Waitokia and former Samoan under-20 midfielder Ueta Tufuga.

Woolliams, Northcott and Waitokia were injured in Manawatu's pre-season against New Zealand Defence Force yesterday but were determined to make Saturday’s lineup.

The game starts at 3pm at the Central Energy Trust Arena in Palmerston North.