Rugby was first played in the Mahurangi area in 1863, seven years before NZ’s first official rugby union game in Nelson, 1870. The British warship HMS Harrier left the Onehunga Garrison with troops from that and other nearby garrisons, maintained for the purposes of the Waikato Wars for a furlong in the Kaipara Harbour.
The crew complement played a number of rugby games in the larger settlements of the Kaipara Harbour, which in those days was a relatively busy harbour servicing the numerous kauri milling operations within the vicinity of the Harbour. One game was played in Glorit where in 1890 The Glorit Rugby Club was formalised.
One could imagine that the games played in those days would bear little resemblance to Rugby Union as we know it now and probably would be recognised more as a form of ‘scrag’ occasionally played in school grounds.
In the early days, there were no roads in the ‘Mahurangi’ and water transport was the principal means of travelling in the Kaipara Harbour, along the Mahurangi, Omaha and Leigh estuaries
In 1989 The Mahurangi Rugby Club was formed with the amalgamation of Kaipara Flats, Omaha and Warkworth Rugby Clubs. These three clubs competed in the Rodney Sub-Union of the North Auckland Provincial Union. The major trophy was the Govan Wilson Cup, inaugurated in 1911 which all three clubs won on a regular basis.
The clubs had popular support within their communities and had strong player strength, each with two senior sides and fielding junior grades in Under 9’s, Under 11’s and Under 13’s.
There was fierce rivalry between supporters and players from each club and in later years there were occasions on the night before a local derby the local ‘drinking hole’ The Warkworth Establishment Hotel’ witnessed altercations that at times exceeded vocal exchanges.
There was no formal College Rugby competition and the three Clubs competed against each other for players from the Mahurangi College to play in the Under 15, 16 and 17 age group competitions. It was felt that this arrangement was unsatisfactory for youth development and this provided the impetus for a steering committee from all three clubs to investigate the possibility of amalgamation and to compete in the North Harbour Provincial Union.
After two years of work by the steering committee, all three clubs voted to formalise the Mahurangi Rugby Club and join North Harbour.
Mahurangi College has produced three All Blacks, Murray Jones, Zinzan Brooke and Robin Brooke, and Murray Jones played his club rugby for Omaha when in the All Blacks.
Established in 1886, Kaipara Flats later amalgamated with the Glorit Club and adopted Glorit’s green strip. In the early days, Kaipara Flats would played about 4-8 games per season, mainly because of its isolation.
Fred Dill wrote in 1970 of playing for Kaipara Flats when they won the Govan Wilson Cup in 1912 and the difficulty the teams had in attending away games. Parts of the track between Kaipara Flats and Warkworth were so bad, that the horses would sink to their bellies. He said “When playing away games like Port Albert or Matakana, the local club always staged a dance, and we stayed at the local boarding house, returning home on the Sunday morning.”
In 1923 the Auckland-Whangarei Rail Line which ran virtually alongside the rugby grounds was completed and this allowed more frequent home and away games.
Players who played for North Auckland were Cliff Poynter, Noel Wech, Ted Bradnam and Mike Hull.
Established in 1905, though rugby was played in the area for many years prior to this. In 1931, Omaha joined forces with the Matakana Rugby Club and became known as the Matoma. In 1947 Matoma amalgamated with Pakiri and took the name Omaha again.Their grounds were at Whangateau Domain which with its natural sand base was perhaps the best grounds in NZ at the time.
A game with Warkworth would mean an overnight stay and the best part of two days required for travelling there and back. Coastal Transport being readily available meant it was easier for Omaha to travel to the Camps of Great Barrier Island and Coromandel to play rugby against the kauri bushman and gold miners there. A trip across the water no doubt held more appeal than a two day horse trip through boggy tracks on horse back.
Omaha won the ‘Cock of the North’ several times and players like Laly (Tracker) Haddon, Des Chitty, Ian Ward, Murray and Rod Jones became legendary when playing for North Auckland during the 1960’s to early 1970’s when North Auckland beat most teams including visiting Test Nations.
Other players for North Auckland were Rex Collings and Hugh Harvey.
Established in 1883 by the McMurdo Brothers, Shoesmith Domain was Warkworth’s first HQ’s before moving to the Warkworth A&P Showgrounds in 1970, now the HQ’s for the Mahurangi Rugby Club. In the early years, few games were played as roads north of Auckland were notoriously bad and roads around the Rodney and Mahurangi Districts were no exception. It seems likely that teams would travel to Warkworth by Coastal Transport. The Waitemata Times reported on a match between Warkworth and a St James Club (now defunct) from Auckland in 1905. St James would have travelled by coastal scow up the Mahurangi river, disembarked at the Warkworth Wharf and walked the short distance to Shoesmith’s Domain for the game.
Warkworth Rugby photos from the 1880’s and 1890’s show players with the surnames, Civil, Cruickshank, Clayden, Hawkins and Morrison, names still very much synonymous with Warkworth today.
The four players from Warkworth who played for North Auckland are; Claude Hancox, Ken Parker, Bert Campbell and Steve Kose.
Hancox played for North Auckland against Australia in 1946 which North Auckland won 32-19. An Australian scribe wrote that Hancox who scored 2 tries was outstanding in the forwards where the North Auckland forwards who had “tussocks growing from their ears……played war to death football…and handed Australia a bitter lesson.” Claude Hancox went onto play League for the NZ Kiwis.
All three clubs fell into recess at some time, mainly during the war years. Ex players and current players served overseas, many not returning. These are remembered elsewhere on this web site. Rugby Clubs that have either existed, amalgamated or gone into recess in the ‘Mahurangi’ are; Puhoi, Glorit, Tauhoa, Kaipara Flats, Warkworth, Pakiri, Matakana, Matoma and Omaha. In 1936, Kaipara Flats, Puhoi and Warkworth combined under the name ‘Central United’ to win the Govan Wilson Cup.
MAHURANGI RUGBY CLUB
Address: A and P Showgrounds, State Highway 1, Warkworth 0941
Ph: 0274 427 685