A former staple of the Canterbury Rugby League club calendar returns to the schedule for the first time in over 30 years this month, courtesy of the inaugural CRL Whitehead Plumbing & Gas Men’s Pre-season Competition.

Over the next three weeks at Ngā Puna Wai, six premier clubs will vie for the first senior silverware of 2024 in a knockout tournament.

This Friday’s three opening-round fixtures all kick off at 6.30pm, with Hornby Panthers facing Eastern Eagles on Ngā Puna Wai Field 1, Riccarton Knights locking horns with Linwood Keas on Field 2 and Halswell Hornets squaring off against Northern Bulldogs on Field 3.

Due to travel logistics, newly-promoted CRL Whitehead Plumbing & Gas Men’s Premiership club Greymouth Greyhounds will not take part in the pre-season knockout.

The three winning teams automatically progress to week two on Friday, March 15, along with the team who loses by the smallest margin. The winners of the two semi-finals will meet in the CRL Whitehead Plumbing & Gas Men’s Pre-season Competition final on the weekend of March 23-24 (day and time TBC).


The reinstatement of a meaningful Canterbury Rugby League pre-season hit-out was primarily driven by the clubs. While there’s still a distinct trial element to the fixtures, the opportunity to carve out a confidence-boosting tournament victory is as important as building cohesion and match fitness leading into the CRL Whitehead Plumbing & Gas Men’s Premiership.

“Some clubs will take it competitively and name their top sides, others may use it as an opportunity to try some new players,” Riccarton Knights president Shane Tamatea says.

“We are doing that, but we’re there to win.”

The CRL Whitehead Plumbing & Gas Men’s Pre-season Competition is especially crucial for clubs with a high turnover of players, or those looking to climb their way up the ladder in the season ahead.

“The last couple of years we’ve underachieved to a certain extent, but we’ve managed to a few recruits this year and get some new guys to the club that are hungry and keen,” adds the 300-game Knights great, who is still training with the club’s premier squad.

“They’ve upped the bar in intensity at training and are lifting the boys that have been there the last couple of years.”

The Knights are eagerly anticipating their opportunity to halt the Keas’ bid to add to their vast array of trophies.

“We’re happy to get that challenge first up … to see where we’re at with some of the new guys, against a quality opposition like Linwood,” Tamatea declares.

“They may have lost a few this year, but knowing Linwood, no matter what team they put out there they’re going to be competitive.”

Whitehead Plumbing & Gas follow in the faded footsteps of multiple radio stations that sponsored the pre-season competitions of the 1980s and ’90s, most notably Radio Avon.

The last formal pre-season club competition was staged in 1993, with Hornby – who would go on to feature in that year’s premiership grand final, an 8-6 loss to Halswell – taking out the Classic Rock Trophy with Ian Gear as coach and the likes of Mark Nixon, Neville Woodham and Marty Crequer guiding the Panthers on the field.

The knockout provided some of the last tangible triumphs at senior level for the likes of 1991 Classic Rock Trophy winners Eastern Suburbs and 1992 FM93 Trophy champions Sydenham. Meanwhile, Halswell proved the kings of the pre-season for an extended period, winning the Radio Avon Trophy three years in succession from 1988-90.

Hornby was a regular Radio Avon Trophy winner during the mid-1980s, while Kaiapoi took out the title in 1983.

Image credit: Abraham Atherton

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