23rd May 2022

Prior to 2012, no student from Tokoroa High School’s first XIII Rugby League team had gone on to tertiary education. Principal William Ford and daughter Tairi decided to prioritise their efforts in changing this, initiating the SUP3 (Supported academic learning) programme, which focused on creating a pathway for students to transition into education past high school. Since then, multiple rugby league starlets have gone on to university and tertiary courses and in recent years Ford and his staff have opened the programme up to the broader year 13 cohort.

After working with the Warriors, Tairi Ford returned to Tokoroa in 2018 to upstart the SUP3 programme, which focuses on three specialised subjects that would grant students university entrance (UE). Students had three domain classes with specialist teachers, where students could receive their UE and NCEA level 13 qualifications while being managed by Ford.

Tairi has been directing the programme for multiple years and has watched it grow from 14 young rugby league players to over 70 year 13 students.

“We used Rugby League as the hook. We knew our rangatahi loved the game, so we coupled their education directly to their ability to play for the school team.” Ford said.

“My father birthed the programme”, Tairi added, talking about Principal William Ford. “He wanted to invest more into the care and wellness of our young people.”

“Many of our boys have not experienced much outside of Tokoroa, and even less have experienced a higher form of education. So, we wanted to give our youth the best chance to do that.”

Former students of Tokoroa High School have gone on to study Medical Science at Otago, Law at Waikato University, and the fullback of the 2016 Tokoroa side has also returned, working as a physiotherapist in the blue-collar town.

Tokoroa High School Principal and former Kiwi’s trainer William Ford had this to say.

“Rugby league is a big part of the community here in Tokoroa. Most of our rangatahi are connected to either the Pacific Sharks or Forestland Falcon’s rugby league clubs which are influential hubs in our region.”

“As a school, we wanted to emphasise the importance of tertiary education and showcase there is more to life than just the labour than just the mill. Rugby League gave us an avenue to do that.”





Canterbury Rugby League is pleased to announce the appointment of Malcolm Humm as CRL’s new Chief Executive Officer.

Malcolm’s acceptance of the role renews his association with Canterbury Rugby League, having played for Halswell over a ten-year period which cumulated in two premiership wins in 1985 and 1988. Malcolm represented Canterbury U18’s and Victoria, Australia. In the early 2000’s he was also the strength and conditioning coach for the Canterbury Bulls.

Malcolm has over 20 years’ experience in sport leadership roles with peak bodies, government sporting agencies, franchises and clubs.

He has business experience where, more recently he has been delivering strategic planning and leadership services to regional, national and international sports organisations out of his own business Humm Consulting Ltd.

In his role as High Performance Director Malcolm led the NZ Paralympic high-performance programme to three Paralympic Games (Beijing, London and Rio).

Additional key leadership roles he has held have been Interim CEO at Paralympics New Zealand and GM Performance at Netball Mainland.

In conjunction with Malcolm’s work and rugby league experience he has a Bachelor of Physical Education (BPhEd) degree from University of Otago and in 2016 completed his Master of Business Administration (MBA) through University of Canterbury.

Canterbury Rugby League feel fortunate to obtain Malcolm for the role where he will bring rugby league, sport and business knowledge to the game. He will be graduating his hours from 16th May through to Tuesday 7th June 2022 when he will then be aboard full-time.

Please join Canterbury Rugby League and the CRL Board in congratulating and welcoming Malcolm into the CEO role.

April 12, 2022


The Sky Sport Women’s Premiership and the National 20’s Ruben Wiki Cup finals culminate this weekend at the home of rugby league, Auckland’s Mt Smart Stadium.


The action kicks off at 12pm when competition dark horse South Island take on Akarana in the National 20’s final followed by 11 time winners, Counties Manukau taking on the  Akarana Falcons in the Sky Sport Women’s Premiership final at 2pm.


Both games are free entry at Mt Smart, no vaccine pass required, and for those out of Auckland all the action is brought to you live on Sky Sport 4.




First placed Akarana go into the final as the only undefeated team in the competition which included a tough victory over opponents South Island in the first round. The Auckland based outfit will be heading into the final with a full steam of momentum off the back of a 76-0 trouncing of the Upper Central Stallions. Big performances from key players such as Elam Payne and Sebastian Su’a will be crucial if the Falcons want to lift their first National 20’s Ruben Wiki Cup trophy.


Road to the Final










South Island go into the final after a convincing victory against Counties Manukau. South Island played a composed and clinical game as they defeated the favoured Auckland side to secure their place against Akarana. A bye in the final week of the round robin also gives them a much needed rest going into what will be a tough contest. Big performances by Uriah Tuli, Ethan Faitala, Jacob Lowe and half Oliver Lawry have led to the South Island’s success, and these players will be instrumental in seeing South Island capture their first National 20’s title.


Road to the Final












Counties Manukau go into the final of the SkySport Women’s Premiership looking to secure their 12th title on the bounce as they take on Auckland rivals Akarana. The Counties women have been dominant throughout the round-robin completing an undefeated run in a tight 26-22 triumph over their grand final opponents. Key veterans Christyl Stowers and Teuila Fotu-Moala will look to lead the young group to a historic consecutive victory.


Road to the Final








Despite coming off a tough narrow loss against Counties, Akarana showed positive signs as they look extremely capable of breaking Counties streak in the Women’s Premiership. A different side from the grand finalists two years ago, Akarana have a young core that have already shown their class in this years’ tournament. A team not short of talent, Kiwi Ferns Lavinia Tauhalaliku and Kanyon Paul will be looking to stamp their mark on the game in tandem with half Laishon Albert-Jones. With both teams ready and raring to go, this will be thrilling 2022 SkySport Women’s Premiership final not to be missed.



Road to the Final









All are encouraged to get down to Mt Smart to see a Saturday filled with exciting rugby league (no vaccine pass needed) or catch all the action on SkySport 4!


27 March 2022


Auckland’s Trusts Stadium held host to South Island and Waikato, with Waikato seeking their first win of the competition.


The South Island side did not take long to open their account, half Oliver Lawry taking advantage of a Uriah Tuli break to go over in the second minute. 14 minutes in Waikato hit back, hooker Tahere Kaio-Koroheke taking advantage of lazy ruck defense to sneak over from dummy-half. Te Awa Daniela converted to take a 6-4 lead.


South Island’s Lawry turned provider in the 19th minute as he put second-rower Tupou Kaufofona through from close range to retake the lead. Moments later Tuli again found himself in space and this time finished, scoring a scintillating solo try as the South Island side went into the break, up 16-6.


Five minutes into the second stanza a dummy half break from Kiardyn Hatch was turned into points as South Island shifted left finding Taani Fangupo who crashed over. Halbert-Pere making it 22-6. After receiving multiple penalties breakdown in the play saw Waikato prop Portman Paul fight off several defenders to bring them to with two converted tries. With five minutes remaining, Prop George Faiava snuffed out any semblance of a comeback crashing over under the posts with Jacob Lowe adding the extras.


Two minutes from time, Deijdre Siaki leapt over the pack to reign in a cross-field kick to score his first of the afternoon. Not to be outdone, Oliver Lawry connected with Jacob Lowe as he scored seconds from the buzzer to complete the victory.


South Island – 40


Tries: Lawry, Kaufofonga, Tuli, Fangupo, Faiava, Siaki, Lowe.


Conversions: Halbert-Pere (3/4), Lowe (3/3)


Waikato – 10


Tries: Kaio-Koroheke, Paul.


Conversions: Daniela (1/1), Stillinovich-Watene (0/1)

Counties Manukau Stingrays put on a dominant 56 – 6 win over Upper Central.

Upper Central opened the scoring with a try from Rawhiri Matthew, who powered through the Counties defence, stretching over the line to take the lead.

Counties wasted no time in hitting back. Hooker Jarney Proctor opened their account, and only minutes later, winger Timothy Tiatia’s superb break down the right edge set up teammate Teariki Ford who grabbed the second. Stingrays fullback Lelefu Sang-Yum found himself in open space, weaving through the defence to go untouched under the posts.

Upper Central forced their way back into the game, but Counties winger Timothy Tiatia took control and hit teammate Maddison Tekeu for his first of the evening, widening the gap to 16.

Counties continued their dominance into the second half with six tries.

Zedric Timai scored the first for Counties in the second stanza, opening the floodgates for the Auckland outfit. Heneli Luani, Tiatia and Pesalili Ma all got on the score sheet, with Ma chipping in with a hat-trick.

A complete performance from the Stingrays saw the final scoring being 56-6 in favour of the Auckland side.


Counties Manukau Stingrays – 56


Jarney Proctor, Teariki Ford, Lelefu Sang-Yum, Maddison Tekeu, ZedricTimai, Pesalili Ma x3, Heneli Luani, Timothy Tiatia


Teariki Ford (5/7),  Lelefu Sang-Yum (2/2), Anthony Naitoko (1/1)


Upper Central  – 6


Rawhiri Matthew


Xavier Mitchell-Winsor (1/1)

24 March 2022


2022 sees the return of the Sky Sport Women’s Premiership after a year hiatus, being replaced in 2021 by the wider National Women’s Competition due to Covid-19 restrictions. 


The premier Women’s rugby league competition kicks off on the 26th of March. Canterbury, the winners of last year’s National Women’s Competition, go up against reigning Women’s Premiership champions Counties Manukau, who are looking to win their 12th straight premiership title in a row. Akarana takes on the Mid Central Vipers on the 27th, with both games being held at Auckland’s Trust stadium.  


Those with a My Vaccine Pass are encouraged to attend the first round of the Women’s Premiership this weekend, with all vaccine restrictions set to lift on April 4.  


Last competition saw the arrival of many Kiwi Ferns who earnt their Black and White jersey plying their trade in the 2020 Premiership. Stars such as Karli Hansen, Autumn-Rain Stephens-Daly and Katelyn Vaha’akolo used the competition as a springboard for their careers and are now playing professionally in the NRLW. 


This year, the competition has been scheduled to coincide with the NRLW season, giving players unable to relocate to Australia a chance to claim a Kiwi Fern’s opportunity. 


Teams will compete in a round-robin competition taking place over three weeks. The top two placed teams at the end of the round-robin will then face off in the final, which will be held at Mt Smart Stadium on the 16th of April. 


All games will be broadcast live on Sky Sport 4. 

March 19 2022

Counties Manukau Stingrays tie 26- 26 with Akarana Falcons in round 2 of the NZRL National 20s competition at Auckland Trusts Stadium. 

Counties opened the scoring with a try from Maddison Tekeu on the 2min mark. Followed by another try from Pesalili Ma, who was able to find space up the right edge and, with a ton of pace, sprinted from one end of the field to the other to put Counties in front with a two-score lead.

Akarana hit back with a superb play spreading the ball left to right through Joshua Tanielu’s offload pass to teammate Sebastian Hindt to put Akarana on the board. 

Counties gained back their momentum as they steamrolled down the field before Teariki Ford chipped the ball into space, beautifully bounced for him to catch and score under the post. Akaranas wing, Tuipala Faaee, found himself in trouble, diving in with his legs after Ford had grounded the ball resulting in a yellow card and an 8 point try for Counties.

With 3 mins to go for the first half, Akarana were desperate for more points before heading into the sheds. Benefiting from two errors from Counties, Akarana saw Ratima emerge from the scrum up the right edge to secure them four more points before the whistle. Counties Manukau Stingrays led Akarana Falcons 20-8 at halftime. 

Counites momentum continued into the first few minutes of the second half as Ford grubbers into open space, closely followed by Samuel Hansen to catch and score. 

With the score margin increasing, Akarana continued aggressiveness, leading to 3 back-to-back tries. Captin Doux Fiatau-Kauhiva busted through the solid Counties defence to score their first points of the half. Minutes later, Akarana capitalised again, scoring another through Kenneth-Seth Henery-Taua, who quickly went over the line untouched to close the point gap slightly. 

With 5mins left, the Counties defence fought hard to hold their ground, but Akarana were too aggressive and saw prop Paaua Papuni-Abbott with an extraordinary run to close the score gap.

After a tough back and forth contest in the last 2mins of the game, the final hooter sounded 26-26. 

Counties Manukau Stingrays – 26


Maddison Tekeu, Pesalili Ma, Teariki Ford, Samuel Hansen


Teariki Ford (4/4)


Akarana Falcons – 26


Sebastian Hindt, Ratima, Doux Fiatau-Kauhiva, Kenneth-Seth Henery-Taua, Paaua Papuni-Abbott


Tuipala Faaee (3/5)

March 14 2022

A group of family-orientated rugby league enthusiasts banded together to start the Papamoa Panthers (now Papamoa Bulldogs) junior rugby league club in 2003. The Papamoa Bulldogs Senior Men’s side was established as the number of members grew and demand increased for junior players to stay. The Papamoa rugby league was thriving, consisting of over 18 teams across the club.

Fast forward to today, like many other sports clubs, the Papamoa Bulldogs Rugby League & Sports Club Inc (PBRLSC) are struggling to recruit players and volunteers to keep the club going. According to veteran Bulldog Teia Dunster, “The Club has been doing it quite tough the last few years; finding volunteers is getting harder by the year.” The PBRLSC are looking for ways to re-engage with the community to gauge interest back into the club, not only for memberships within the club but also for the community to become more involved.

In hopes to restore the club, Dunster and his team at WEON put together an event, Operation getting Bryce Dinneen to the top of Papamoa Hills 3118.

Bryce Dinneen is an inspirational man who, unfortunately at the age of 29, had a diving accident, which resulted in him becoming tetraplegic.

Regardless of his circumstances, Dinneen is resilient and strives to push on with the hope that he can continue to achieve great things in life. Dinneen is the driving force behind his charity “wish4Fish’, which provides individuals with a physical or mental disability and illness the opportunity to enjoy the freedom and pleasure of Aotearoa ocean waters.

While helping others to achieve their goals, Dinneen has his own goals he wants to achieve. One of them is to have the ability to reach the top of Papamoa Hills.

With Dunster and WEON’s operation, the Papamoa Bulldogs Rugby League Club and community aim to band together to help this extraordinary man achieve his goal.  This operation will also help lift the club’s profile, re-build the connection with the Tauranga community, and hopefully attract interest to the Rugby League Club. It is also an excellent way to channel pre-season fitness training for the Bulldogs.

“This is a way I thought we could build interest and try and get a buzz happening around the place. I’m a firm believer if the vibe is good, the people will come,” Dunster shares.

The day of the event is set to happen on Saturday 26th March. There will be organised teams of six rotating in carrying Dinneen to the top of Papamoa hills. They will be joined by a local kaumatua, Quentin Bidios, who will korero about the significance of Papamoa sites and Maori historical battles that happen. The day will end with a wind-down BBQ and cold drinks back at the Papamoa community centre.

Teia Dunster expresses, “We would love for as many people as possible to be involved!”

To get behind this inspiring event, feel free to donate here


All funds will go towards the Papamoa Bulldogs Rugby League & Sports Club to pay for ongoing expenses this season.

For more info about the event, visit


March 13 2022


Christchurch’s Nga Puna Wai hosted both South Island and Akarana for their first hit-outs of the 2022 Ruben Wiki Cup.


Akarana asserted themselves immediately, quickly moving into the swing of the game and converting this early dominance into points as Northcote winger Tupala Faaee went over untouched in the corner.


Ten minutes in, Akarana found themselves over again through Faaee as the Falcons went to a short side shift, capitalising on an overlap to make the score 8-0 to the visitors.


Dominating the opening exchanges, Captain Doux-Fiatau-Kauhiva intercepted a loose pass to put winger Esom Ioka down the right-hand side extending the lead to 14-0 as Joshua Tanielu converted.


South Island found a way through as three quick penalties pushed them down onto the Akarana line. Tupou Kaufononga was able to turn that field position into points as he crashed over around the ruck to bring the game to 14-6 going into the half.


Eight minutes into the second stanza saw Sebastian Su’a fight his way over for a four-pointer. A superb break by Ioka put Akarana into dangerous territory and a short ball by Fiatau-Kauhiva put Su’a into a hole where he was able to score. Faaee converted to make it a 20-6 game.


With the contest going back and forth, Akarana took the game into their own hands and were able to extend their advantage in the 60th minute. A clinical set-piece saw Lani Graham-Taufa push the score to a comfortable 24-6.


With 15 minutes left in the match, South Island produced their best displays of the afternoon as Makaia Tafua, Ethan Faitaua and fullback Kiardyn Hatch put themselves on the scoresheet in quick succession to make the game a tight contest. Missed conversions were costly as they were unable to complete the comeback with Akarana sneaking through 24-20 to end round 1.


Next week South Island hosts Upper Central Stallions and Akarana meet Counties in the Auckland derby at Trusts Stadium.


Akarana – 20



Tupala Faaee (x2), Esom Ioka, Sebastian Su’a, Lani Graham-Taufa.



Faaee (1/3), Tanielu (1/2)


South Island – 20



Tupou Kaufononga, Makaia Tafua, Ethan Faitaua, Kiardyn Hatch.



Jacob Lowe (2/4)

12 March 2022

The Upper Central Stallions emerged 48-12 winners over Waikato Mana in Round 1 of the NZRL National 20s Ruben Wiki Cup at Davies Park, Huntly.

Trevel Garninner-Hano opened the scoring on the left edge after five minutes of play as Xavier Mitchell-Windsor slid between the Waikato defence and found the winger to get on the board.

Stallion’s winger Jericho Yorke found himself in space after a superb break, finding Gardner-Hano for his second after a quarter of the match gone. Minutes later, Upper Central capitalised again, scoring another through winger Bailey Mohi Lyttle to grow their advantage.

Desperation from the Waikato side saw Te Poria Marsh stretch himself over the line to claw the Mana back into the contest.

With seconds left in the half, Upper Central captain Dayna Bidois crossed over, wrestling the game back into the Stallion’s favour as they went into the break up 18-6.

The Stallions imposed their will to start the second stanza as Xavier Mitchell-Winsor went over after the restart. Keanu Watson-Tautau then backed him up, using his footwork to score another try to give his team a commanding 30-6 lead.

With the Stallions dominating the game, Waikato managed to find a four-pointer against the run of play through Jardyn Watene, opening their account in the second half.

Upper Central hit right back through winger Jericho Yorke and moments later, Gardner-Hano, who completed his hat trick. Stallions full-back Ravyn Whetu sliced through Waikato with only minutes remaining to secure their first win of 2022.

Upper Central Stallions 48 (Trevel Garniner-Hano x3, Bailey Mohi Lyttle, Dayna Bidois, Xavier Mitchell-Winsor, Keanu Watson-Tautau, Jericho Yorke, Ravyn Whetu

Waikato Mana 12 (Te Poria Marsh, Jardyn Watene)

03 February 2022

as seen on warriors.kiwi

Former Kiwis Jerry Seuseu and Ben Henry will again be familiar faces when the Vodafone Warriors combine with wellbeing provider Le Va and the New Zealand Rugby League to deliver another series of workshops for clubs from the Auckland Rugby League region in the coming months.

After being with the Vodafone Warriors in a wellbeing role for many years, 132-game club favourite Seuseu is now the NZRL’s wellbeing manager but he remains involved with the Vodafone Warriors’ wellbeing support team.

Now leading the Vodafone Warriors as player wellbeing and education manager is Ben Henry, who graduated to the welfare and education space after his immensely promising NRL career was cruelly cut short at 52 games only one match into the 2016 season.

Together with Le Va, Henry and Seuseu are well-versed in bringing mental wealth workshops to clubs from the NZRL’s Akarana and Counties Manukau zones.

They began a programme again last year but their plans were undone by Auckland’s Covid lockdown.

Now they’re ready to roll again with an initiative that sees Auckland clubs being transported on the Vodafone Warriors’ bus to be hosted at workshops at the club’s Mount Smart Stadium base.

As well as players from clubs throughout Auckland, squad members from the Sky Sport Future Warriors programme will be involved in the workshops which combine mental and physical drills targeted at the younger age bracket.

“The main drive of the workshops is to help young people manage their mental health through developing strong mental health tools and strategies,” said Henry.

“These are aimed at building the protective factors required to live a robust life in Aotearoa and meet the challenges of modern day living.”

Seuseu added this year’s mental wealth programme runs off the back of the model used in 2019 and 2020.

“We will be delivering the latest offering from Le Va, the Atu Mai programme,” he said.

“It is an anti-violence programme aimed at building mental health strength through understanding and developing players’ cultural identities. Individuals are more resilient if they have a strong sense of whakapapa and identity.”

The workshops will kick off with a visit from the New Lynn Stags on February 11.

For more information about the Le Va programmes:

CLICK HERE for Atu Mai workshops. 

CLICK HERE for resources and research.

Wellbeing colleagues collaborate

Wellbeing colleagues Seuseu and Henry are both accredited through the NRL and are NRL endorsed and funded to deliver wellbeing services to Vodafone Warriors players.

Seuseu left the Vodafone Warriors in May last year to head up the national programme at the NZRL after 11 years as the Vodafone Warriors’ wellbeing manager.” he said.

“We are lucky to partner with the Vodafone Warriors to facilitate discussions about the state of wellbeing and offer tools and strategies that are used in high performance sport to grow resilience at the grassroots level starting with the ARL clubs.

“I am enjoying the switch from high-performance athletes to the grassroots communities.” NZRL Wellbeing Manager, Jerry Seuseu commented.

“We are more than just a game and it is important to have programmes and strategies to look after our rugby league community. One in five people go through serious mental distress at some point in their lives.”

Henry has stepped in to lead the Vodafone Warriors’ programme and has five years’ experience as a wellbeing officer.

While his playing career was shortened by serious injury, he is a perfect example of what could be accomplished as a professional athlete. He completed several qualifications while playing – a certificate in computer programming, a certificate (level four) in business and a certificate in applied engineering. He is the ideal fit to help young players plan for a footy career and to also look ahead to transition away from the game.

Henry has quickly built a team around him with Jason Fiddes running point in Australia with the NRL players; Fiddes previously worked as a wellbeing officer at the Brisbane Broncos.

Also back on board is Enroy Talamahina, who continues his four-year relationship with the club. Talamahina is from the Sports Chaplaincy New Zealand service and assists Henry in his role for the players back in New Zealand.

Anyone interested in the programme, please contact Jerry Seuseu at [email protected] or Ben through [email protected]

December 15, 2021

as seen on canterburyrugbyleague.co.nz

Amid the myriad gongs handed out for excellence in the current calendar year at the recent 2021 Canterbury Rugby League awards, one unassuming individual received special recognition for quarter of a century of high standards and commitment to our game.

Gary Smallridge cut his teeth in the CRL premier refereeing ranks 25 years ago, dedicating close to half of his life to one of the most demanding and important (and often maligned and thankless) jobs in rugby league.

“I was somewhat surprised by the award as I have been plodding along all these years and nothing’s been said,” Smallridge says of his CRL Special Acknowledgement Award.

“I try and keep under the radar by not going to these types of things – the only other awards night I’ve attended was in Canterbury Rugby League’s centenary year. I would love to see others recognised as well, as 10 years is a milestone – and the average career length – while Keith Bull recently sneaked away after being involved in the game for 50 years.”

The 59-year-old got his start in refereeing in one of Australia’s rugby league heartlands. Smallridge takes up the story of how he first picked up the whistle:

“I was playing lower grades in Brisbane when a guy I worked with talked to me about trying out when he found out I refereed touch football. I went along and they had over 100 referees turn up on a Tuesday training.

“I had to pass a written exam and then-current premiership referee Eddie Ward asked me five oral questions and I got my ticket. I was refereeing 13- and 14-year-old grades and touch judging premier football in the weekends. I did a couple of seasons and then returned to NZ in 1995 and decided to continue.

“I believe that couple of seasons in Brisbane gave me a good grounding. When I turned up in Christchurch they saw some potential in me, and I was fast-tracked doing my first premier grade in ‘96. Looking back, I think I’d have struggled to make premiers in Brisbane due to the numbers.”

When asked how he has maintained the motivation to continue refereeing at this level for so long, Smallridge provides an answer straight out of the rugby league cliché handbook, echoing countless others whose craving for a Saturday afternoon footy fix bubbles to the surface as each winter rolls around.

“You’re a long time retired,” he says.

“I still love the game and having the best seat in the house helps. Unfortunately, there can be a bit of politics involved around appointments and rankings, and I nearly gave it away when it started affecting family and friends.

“But I’ve tried to take the attitude of just getting on with the job I’ve been given. That has helped, but at semi-final time you always get the urge to go all the way.

“Watching teams and individuals develop over the years has been one of the best parts of refereeing in this competition for so long. I loved watching the likes of Riccarton, Kaiapoi and Papanui winning their premierships over the regular big guns, while also seeing the careers of local players like Lewis Brown and Corey Lawrie develop.

“The challenging part is always going to come back to how you deal with individuals questioning your integrity. I’ve always been able to put it down to my passion for the game at the time; unfortunately there are some who can take (criticism) a step too far, but it’s also a great feeling when a spectator acknowledges that you handled a hard game well.”

Smallridge has been something of a refereeing bridesmaid during his Canterbury Rugby League tenure, but he has controlled three premier Grand Finals – the first back in 2002, which saw Riccarton Knights claim their maiden title with a 54-14 rout of Linwood Keas.

Underlining his consistency and reliability over a long period, Smallridge’s most recent appointment to the biggest game on the CRL calendar came just four months ago, handed the duties for the 2021 Grand Final at Ngā Puna Wai. His cool-headed temperament in a pressure-cooker environment contributed to a match fought on a knife’s edge between archrivals Hornby Panthers and Linwood Keas being one of the great modern deciders.

“I’ve always started a season with the goal of a Grand Final and to do three is a highlight, however my record for Gore Cup finals – usually the second-best ref – will probably never be broken.

“I believe my style of reffing has led to me being a consistent local referee, but I didn’t have that edge required to go the extra step up. In saying that, I have had a few trips around the country and games that stand out would be Russia playing Canterbury (in 2004) and Canterbury versus Wellington for the 100-year anniversary.

“Another was Shirley and Woolston in the nineties when it was Black Power versus Mongrel Mob played out at Eaton Field at Paparua Prison, while for a different reason a Kaiapoi versus Sydenham match where I sent all 26 players off was particularly memorable.”

Recruiting and retaining referees remains one of the greatest challenges in grassroots rugby league. For every Gary Smallridge, there are dozens who walk away from the whistle for one reason or another.

But the commitment and passion of a dedicated few ensures the refereeing vocation – and consequently the game – continues to subsist, if only barely.

“The game in Canterbury has been so lucky to have the likes of the Arneson brothers and Lightfoot family who kept the Referees Association going without too much bother,” Smallridge explains.

“There have always been the same issues in rugby league, but it should be about how we make the game better – not about what people can get out of the game. The referees have lost so much experience over the last few years with retirements and people walking away, feeling aggrieved in some way.

“We are now struggling to provide coverage for every game even though there is now a clear pathway to higher honours. Instead of having elections we are now pleading for someone to step up into the leadership roles.”

Smallridge has a simple yet poignant message for anyone contemplating getting involved in refereeing:

“Go down to a kid’s game and tell me if they deserve an adult to put in the time to support them while they are enjoying themselves.

“If you want to stay or become involved in sport then being a match official is certainly a good place to start. I never went anywhere in my own league career but have now been involved in Grand Finals and representative games through refereeing.”

Former NRL stars such as Henry Perenara and Luke Patten have made the shift to the match official ranks at the elite level in recent times.

Meanwhile, Halswell premiership-winning player and coach Darrell Coad is one of the latest additions to the CRL refereeing ranks – a trend Smallridge believes could be an invaluable stream for grassroots footy to tap into.

“It’s the best thing that can happen in our game,” Smallridge asserts.

“Knowledge about what players are thinking or going through during matches allows a better feel for the game. A sin-bin or send-off can cost a team dearly but a quiet word in the ear of a player on the edge from someone who has been there can have a calming effect.

“(The late) Darryl Hawker is one who is missed in the referee ranks – and the game in general – as he had performed of every role that the game had to offer and would share that knowledge to everyone involved.”

New Zealand Rugby League and its affiliates have increasingly put measures in place to make the game a safer and more hospitable environment for match officials.

The message that referees are human and make errors and analyse their own performance to the extent any player does cannot be understated.

“If a referee can finish a game and they are not talking about him then he’s done a good job,” Smallridge says.

“I’ve probably been lucky in my career that I can’t think of any incidents where I have been intimidated or threatened to the extent that I have thought about giving it away, but unfortunately too many volunteer referees have.

“If a referee is out there trying his best, then our mistakes shouldn’t cost a team a game. I’ve lost count of the times when I checked the 10 metres outside me and missed the knock-on in the play-the-ball. It’s not a nice feeling but it’s a common mistake.

“It is good to see that we are trying to look after match officials in all sports but again we need to look at ourselves as a society when it comes to violence and intimidation for perceived mistakes during a game.

“Twenty-five years has flown by and I have enjoyed every minute, but I don’t think I’ve ever had the perfect game. No one is harder on a referee than himself and so it is always good to get assessed or graded by someone who knows the game. Some of my best gradings though were with people who know the game – Chris Baxter, ‘Jigsy’ (Brent Ringdahl), Frank Endacott – over a beer in the clubrooms after a game. Knowing what players and coaches go through certainly helped my game but they, and spectators, probably need to know what we go through as well.”

So how much longer can we expect to see Smallridge blowing time on, marshalling the 10 metres and pointing to the spot after a tryscoring movement at Leslie Park, Murphy Park, Linwood Park and Ngā Puna Wai?

“I know I’m on my last legs – well, knees actually – and have had a retirement plan in action for a while now, but I’m still enjoying it.

“I’ve been saying ‘one last year’ for the last 10 but wanted to lose my spot to someone coming up the ranks, so they must fight for it – unfortunately they keep retiring before me! I retired from representative football years ago and although I want to see others develop there is nothing better than being asked to control a representative fixture still, so I keep doing them as well if appointed.

“I’m 60 in September next year, so if the goal is to do premiers at 60 then that means two more seasons – but is that good for the game?”

Reflecting on the past 25 years, Smallridge takes the opportunity to thank the myriad people who have aided his Canterbury Rugby League refereeing odyssey.

“Firstly, there’s Jacquoi (Smallridge), who at 10 years old followed me around to games and trainings as I was a solo father for a while – it would be all quiet forming a scrum or something and I would hear ‘come on, Gary’.

“Also the Arneson and Baxter brothers, the Lightfoot family, Jim Stokes, Neville Pritchard, Steve Toms, Steve Martin, Jason Wilson and the many more CRLRA members; current and former CRL employees over the years, especially Duane Fyfe and Tracy Fleet; and the touch judges, match managers and ball boys who have assisted me during every game.
“A special and everlasting thanks to the Blackler family, especially Ken, who as a former referee was a great and loyal supporter, trainer and assessor to me while also giving his daughter’s hand in marriage to me.

“And Sharyn – we met after a league game and you have supported me through the last 22 years of my career. Sorry about the lawns and the housekeeping during the winter but I promise there’s not long to go now!

“Lastly thanks to all involved in the great game of rugby league – it’s been an honour and a privilege to be involved. Thank you one and all.”

22nd November, 2021

Kiwi #726 David Fa’alogo has been announced as the Mt Albert Lions Premier Men’s Head Coach for the upcoming 2022 Fox Premiership season. The Mt Albert junior returns after playing over 250 first grade games across the NRL and Superleague whilst also representing the Kiwis from 2006-09, including a World Cup in 2008.

Fa’alogo’s history with the Lions dates back to 2001, joining the club with his brother Sala. They found instant success winning the Bartercard Cup in 2002 under the guidance of coach John Ackland.

“My game developed in a big way during my years at Mt Albert,” says Fa’alogo.

“It is a family orientated club, which made Sala and myself feel connected and right at home, the club has also continued to support both my brother and my family over the years.”

The return of Fa’alogo is a timely blessing for the Lions as Club Administrator Dave Mcdermott commented, “The local game has struggled as of late due to the last couple of seasons being unfinished due to covid.

“Player exodus has affected the team as of late with players leaving to play abroad, and the insurgence of David brings a hunger to play for the club.”

Fa’alogo added, “It is a time of uncertainty for Mt Albert, but together with Matt Sturm and our coaching staff, we intend to continue developing both of junior and senior players coming through the club and build off the great work done in past years.

“It is important to play consistent and competitive footy each week and show what this historic club is capable of.”

The Lions were third on the table and progressed to the competition’s semi-finals before the Premiership was cancelled due to Covid-19.

11 October 2021

Congratulations to Otara Scorpions Rugby League club who rallied together 564 people to receive their Covid vaccination as part of the Rally your Village campaign.  

In response to a lower-than-average vaccination rate across Auckland’s South, Pacific Healthcare providers agreed on delivering a collective community outreach to provide vaccination opportunities around the area.  

South Seas Healthcare Bubblegum collaborated with community leaders and healthcare providers to organise a drive-through vaccination event called “Rally your Village.” The event was held from the 1st of October till Wednesday the 6th and was aimed at reaching full Covid-19 immunity across priority areas of South Auckland. 

The event rewarded communities that banded together and produced the highest number of people to get vaccinated. The highest number was awarded to the Otara Scorpions Rugby League club, as 564 people participated in the event due to their efforts. The club received $15 000 in prize money, which they said will go towards new training equipment and resources in 2022. 

Chairman of the Scorpions Willie Maea, “Southseas approached us as a club to enter, and the decision went back and forth between our board. Ultimately, we decided to enter and appointed six of our staff to co-ordinate the event for us. This was Sariah Matautia, Elsie Ulaula, Ria Maea, Ella Stowers, Tregan Sione and Dawn Sione.” 

Teams were required to have a duo of coordinators present at the Vodafone events centre, and another four volunteers would make calls and attempt to inform people about being vaccinated. 

Maea continued, “The primary goal for us was to get as many people as we could vaccinated, with motivation for new resources pushing us along. All six of our staff set about calling as many club members, friends and family members as possible to get them down to the drive-through event.” 

“At the conclusion of the rally, we were ahead with the most votes and out of the 27 organisations participating and managed to get 564 people vaccinated, which was a fitting reward for an outstanding effort by our six staff.” 

Congratulations to all who were involved. 

Visit https://covid19.govt.nz/covid-19-vaccines/how-to-get-a-covid-19-vaccination/walk-in-and-drive-through-vaccination-centres/ to find a list of walk in vaccination centres near you!  

As seen on ABS.CBN News (https://news.abs-cbn.com/sports/08/20/21/pinoy-rugby-players-mula-ph-at-nz-nagsanib-puwersa)

26th August, 2021

Counties-Manukau Rugby League has been delivering the game to its Asian community since 2013, creating opportunities and pathways for participants not usually renowned for playing rugby league.

The Ethnic competition and encouraging diversity in the game have always been priorities for Counties-Manukau; therefore the affiliation between Pambansang Ragbi Liga Ng Pilipinasand Auckland based rugby league team, United Eagles, was a natural fit.

The Eagles are the first all-Asian based rugby league team endorsed by Counties Manukau Rugby League (CMRL) and the New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) to compete in Auckland’s Ethnic Cup competition. The team comprises 70% Filipino players with a mix of other players from Japan, Thailand, and Hong Kong.

The Ethnic Rugby League Competition was established in 2013 by NZRL’s Counties Manukau Rugby League General Manager Kasey King. The competition currently accommodates the following teams, the Counties Manukau Piranhas, Auckland Wasps, Onehunga Guardianz, the Eagles, and the Dragons. It comprises groups of ethnicities, mainly from New Zealand’s increasing Asian community not renowned for playing rugby league. The players gain valuable rugby league experience through the competition each year, leading to players being selected to represent their country of origin through international matches.

The PNRL have longed to establish a partnership with the Eagles for some time now, with talks over the past week confirming the interest on both sides. With this affiliation, the PNRL will assist in expanding the reach of rugby league to the New Zealand based Filipino players and increase Filipino participation in the six-week Ethnic Cup competition held yearly. The affiliation will also provide pathway opportunities for players to represent the Philippines at a developmental or national level and provide access to national development programs.

Ex-Tamaraw player Odyssey Laderas and current player Carmilo Manuyag (Head Coach of Eagles) have been actively working with Asian based NZ players of all levels to provide a safe pathway for player representation into the Ethnic Cup competition. Carmilo has also been the team’s driving force from the start, with a clear vision of where this group could go. He also ensured the transition from Eagles to Dragons to keep the reputational name of Eagles for future use as we had family sabbaticals during this time. The PNRL will work closely with the pair to help increase their overall participation numbers with the goal of entering more development teams into the Ethnic Cup competition each year.

“The affiliation with the Philippines governing body for the sport of Rugby League (PNRL) will provide pathways for rugby league development and participation of NZ based Filipinos. This will also ensure a healthy, active club and international membership. Built on family and brotherhood as its foundation, we encourage each other to excel in our talents and abilities with a focus on support at all aspects of the game, whether on or off the field,” says Eagles Manager.

“We look forward to working with Carmilo and Odyssey to promote and develop Philippine Rugby League and share our values to our fellow New Zealand based Filipinos. We want to be part of the Eagles future successes and share these achievements with the rugby league community. We hope other rugby league associations will follow suit and provide the same opportunities for heritage players across the globe. Rugby League is a game for everyone, regardless of size, skill, gender, or ethnicity,” PNRL President Reynaldo Nery states.  

10 July 2021

Sean Spooner joins rarefied air in the club rugby league sphere this weekend, making his 300th premier grade appearance in the Canterbury Rugby League competition.

The 37-year-old will complete this remarkable achievement less than a year after Shane Tamatea joined the 300 Club – and Spooner shares many qualities with his legendary Riccarton Knights teammate.

Commitment, selflessness, leadership, competitive desire.

Talking to Spooner this week ahead of his milestone match at Crosbie Park, humility is another common trait between the pair that shines through.

“I haven’t really thought about (the milestone) too much until after the game last Saturday,” Spooner says.

“It’s come around pretty quick from when I started to now – I guess it’s pretty rare.”

Fittingly, he will play his 300th game against Papanui Tigers, the club Spooner came through the junior ranks at and made his premiers debut for as a teenager way back in 2002.

To put the veteran playmaker’s longevity in perspective, the NRL’s current longest-serving player, Benji Marshall, came into first grade in late-2003.

“The quality of players, the competition back then was very fierce and competitive,” Spooner recalls of his early days in the top flight.

“Any team could beat anyone else on the day and every team had good players – the Tigers had the likes of Eddie Hei Hei, Chris Newton, John Kelly. Quality players at the end of their careers but stars in their own right.

“Lusi Sione (Halswell) and Aaron Whittaker (Riccarton) were also just at the end of their careers when I was starting, they were where I am at the moment.”

After three seasons in the black-and-gold jersey, Spooner joined Hornby Panthers – the start of a fruitful 14-season tenure out west that garnered eight CRL Grand Final appearances and premierships in 2006, 2009-10 and 2012-13.

“It all started with ‘Jiggsy’, (Panthers coach) Brent Ringdahl, he brought me to the club,” he explains.

“I had a conversation with his son, Chris, and it went from there, we built a relationship up and it’s been like that ever since – we’ve always been pretty tight.”

Spooner rates his first and last Grand Final victories as his standout memories at Hornby: “Winning your first Grand Final has got to be up with the best. I can remember listening to the anthem before the game, it was an awesome experience.”

The 2013 Grand Final – the second straight between archrivals Hornby and Halswell to go into extra-time – was a classic, with James Baxendale’s 98th-minute penalty goal securing another title. It was especially sweet for the Spooner family, however, with Sean featuring alongside brother Gene.

“Our parents are pretty proud of that, Jack and Karen.

“It was definitely a standout one from a viewer’s perspective, ebb and flow, it could have gone either way. Both quality teams – Halswell were an exceptionally good team back then.”

While Spooner rates Ringdahl as the biggest influence on his career, he also formed a strong bond with the Panthers’ 2012-13 premiership-winning coach, Brent Stuart, and credits a clutch of experienced teammates for showing him the ropes at Hornby.  

“‘Stuey’ was a person I really looked up to, very knowledgeable and I still keep in contact with him now. He’s definitely someone you wanted to be taught by – he’s a bloody good coach.

“Craig Smith and Aaron Harris are two guys who I really respect, they taught me a lot. About the jersey, the culture, everything it means to play for Hornby. Sam Wallace was also someone I enjoyed playing in the same team as.”

Spooner linked with Riccarton last year, leaving a club chock-full of experience that had played in eight of the previous 11 Grand Finals, for a rebuilding, youthful outfit.

The sea change has given Spooner a new lease of life, arguably helping prolong his admirable career.

“It was a fresh approach, I wanted to be a leader and try my hand at something different,” he says.

“A new challenge, some new goals. Really test myself towards the back-end of my career. I really felt I could bring some of that to Riccarton.

“Last season was the first the Knights were in the semi-finals for four years. As a club, I’m really appreciative of all their work. Shane (Tamatea) is an inspiration, the main person at Riccarton – our clubman. Our relationship has got really strong and he’s a good mate.

“Being a leader is something I always wanted to be in any team I played in. I wanted to set an example for people to show that hard work, dedication can pay off in the end. I wanted to be that player that everyone could follow.”

And it’s old-fashioned hard work that has underpinned Spooner’s ability to play at this level for 20 seasons – at least in more recent times.

“Earlier on I wasn’t a massive gym-goer, I was a bit lazy,” he confesses.  

“But these past few years I’ve really looked after myself. Kids these days are getting stronger and bigger, so you’ve got to try and match them as best you can.

“The last five years I’ve worked really hard on fitness to be competitive. It’s not easy – you can get left behind pretty quick. I was just trying to take that work ethic to our team at Riccarton and hopefully in coming years it’s going to pay off.”

Spooner remains coy about the prospect of hanging up the boots – and if he follows the example set by Tamatea, who has turned short-lived retirements into an art form, we can expect to the wily ball-player running around again in 2022 and beyond.

“You’re a long time retired, that’s the call Shane uses too. I’ll play it by ear, see how the rest of the season goes – we’ve still got a few games to go. Look after the body and go from there.”

Will Evans

Demand for rugby league in the Taranaki region saw the introduction of two fresh competitions in 2021 after seeing no competitive football for two years.

The season lasted seven weeks from the 13th of February to the 27th of March this year. Five Premier teams and three u16s teams registered for the competition while two women’s teams played an exhibition match on the 27th March.

This rugby league season was a huge success, the local community rallied around and participated in competitive spirit. Feedback from players, coaches and volunteers implied a desire to compete again in the upcoming year.

One of the noted successes of the 2021 season was Taranaki Rugby League’s inclusion of “Festival Days” into the competition draw. Each weekend, Clubs were given the chance to act as the host ground for the scheduled games. This encouraged spectators to support a range of local clubs throughout the duration of the competition.

Mid-Central Development Officer, Alan Jackson, said it is promising signs of a region on the rise.

“It is great to see the competition back in Taranaki. To see a competitive local scene once again is promising as we are working to continue that momentum and further meet ongoing demand for quality rugby league in our region.

“It brought together our communities and was an exciting display of our regions talent and passion for the game – the standard of footy was fantastic. Next steps are to review our season with the volunteers and clubs and see what we can achieve next.”

Former Taranaki district players such as Isaac Luke, Royce Hunt, and Kenny Edwards showed their support for the clubs ahead of Grand Final day.

Bell Block Dragons claimed the Premiership, while Western suburbs Tigers took out the u16s competition.