PAPANUI TIGERS’ 101 REASONS TO CELEBRATE
Canterbury Rugby League’s club competitions take a break over Easter, which provides a deserving spotlight for Papanui Tigers Rugby League Club to belated celebrate a momentous landmark.
In 2022, Papanui became only the sixth CRL club to bring up 100 years in existence – but uncertainty around travel due to COVID saw the club postpone centenary celebrations. This weekend, however, the wait will prove worthwhile as the Tigers mark the milestone with a series of events and matches.
The festivities get underway with a conversational supper at the Papanui Tigers’ clubrooms on Friday night.
On Saturday, there’s 11 matches scheduled at Papanui Domain: eight junior matches from 7s through to 18s (getting underway at 9.30am) and culminating in two Presidents fixtures from 1pm and Papanui Tigers’ Canterbury Cup fixture against Halswell Hornets at 2.45pm.
The coveted Kevin Williams Memorial Trophy goes on the line between the Tigers and the Hornets, in a match that doubles as the only competition game being played this Easter.
The party rolls on into Saturday night via a bash at the Papanui Club.
“It’s really exciting for us, a lot of us have been around the club for a long time,” Papanui Tigers president Grant Bond says.
“I played for the Tigers from when I was eight, missed a few years and kept playing until I was 40, then joined the committee.”
Among the Tigers revellers will be former club stalwarts from as far afield as Western Australia, as well as black-and-gold royalty in the form of 90-year-old John Bond, a seven-Test Kiwi and Papanui mainstay in the 1950s.
“There’s others here that have played and volunteered over the years and the club has become a second home – you come down here and spend half your life at the club,” Bond, the nephew of Papanui legend and Kiwis five-eighth and captain Jim Bond, continues.
“We’ve got a lot of stalwarts, that’s who this is for. It will be a great opportunity for a lot of people who haven’t seen each other for a while to catch up and reminisce about the old days – and for those of us that are still here, to celebrate what we’ve still got.”
The club began life in 1922 as Waimari, featuring famed dual international Billy Mitchell as player-coach. In 1947, club officials made the call to adopt the name Papanui to identify more closely with their surrounds (Papanui only officially became a suburb of Christchurch city in 1923). John Bond was among the Papanui ‘originals’.
Papanui made its CRL championship breakthrough in 1957 – with New Zealand Test halfback Keith Roberts as captain-coach – and collected further titles in 1959 and ’60 (sharing the latter with Linwood).
The advent of a grand final system in the Canterbury competition from 1967 gave rise to arguably the club’s greatest era.
After losing the second premiership decider in 1968, the Tigers won seven grand finals in eight years between 1971 and ’78 – only Eastern Suburbs’ defeat of Papanui in ’75 decider interrupted their unprecedented supremacy. Ex-Kiwi halfback Gary Clarke was player-coach of the 1971-72 triumphs, Trevor Bisman took over as coach for the 1973-74 wins and Rodney Walker was player-coach for the 1976-78 three-peat.
Following a 14-year absence from the grand final stage, Papanui enjoyed another fruitful period during the 1990s, winning premierships in 1992 and ’94 under Lex Clarke’s coaching, and ’98 with Brent Ringdahl at the helm after losing the previous year’s decider.
There was grand final heartache in 2000 and ’08, before the Tigers snapped their longest title drought since becoming Papanui with an epic extra-time triumph over Linwood in the 2015 grand final – the club’s 14th championship overall and 11th since the grand final system was put in place.
Papanui Tigers women’s team – spearheaded by recent Kiwi Ferns reps Bunty Kuruwaka-Crowe and Corrina Whiley – won consecutive premierships in 2016-17 before being edged out in the following year’s decider by Linwood Keas in an absolute classic in the last CRL Grand Final Day at Rugby League Park.
A total of 16 players – Allen Amer, Ean Anderson, Gary Blackler, Jim Bond, John Bond, John Clarke, Gary Clarke, Spencer Dunn, Blair Harding, Paul Johnson, Eddie Kerrigan, Rex King, Kevin Pearce, Keith Roberts, George Turner, Rodney Walker – have represented the Kiwis while at the club, as well as Kiwi Ferns quintet Kuruwaka-Crowe, Whiley, Serena Setu, Somma Te Kahu and Tessa Te Kahu.
Other luminaries such as Mark Broadhurst won premierships with the Tigers before earning Test call-ups from other clubs.
The club’s history was marvellously encapsulated by a book written by revered Canterbury-based journalist, author and historian John Coffey, released during 2022.
Papanui Tigers’ centenary celebrations coincide with a unique and challenging juncture for the proud and decorated club. For the first time since World War II, it does not have a presence in the premier grade.
When Celebration Lions’ withdrawal from the 2023 CRL Men’s Premiership left the competition with seven teams, Papanui Tigers – on the back of three arduous Massetti Cup campaigns – made the difficult but forward-thinking decision to request for their senior team to play in the Premier Reserves this year.
The focus is on rebuilding a squad in the comparatively less daunting Canterbury Cup competition and pushing for reinstatement to the top grade as a more competitive unit.
“It was definitely a tough decision, we’ve been fighting to stay in the premier division for the last three years and the results have been showing that we’re struggling,” Bond confirms.
“But the change in the (promotion/relegation) structure where we have got an opportunity to make our way back into the premiers, we’re taking the better road of rebuilding, getting our players playing good football and winning, building their skills up.
“The players have been really positive about it.”
Certainly the early indications are encouraging, the Tigers winning their Canterbury Cup season opener against Shirley Hawks 56-10 before having the Round 2 bye last weekend.
Saturday’s clash with the Hornets shapes as a key opportunity to keep their momentum going – as well as marking the club’s special day in a fitting way.