Counties Manukau Rugby Union
|Ground(s)||ECO Light Stadium, Pukekohe (Capacity: 12,000)|
|2013||Beaten Cup Semi-finalist|
The Counties Manukau Rugby Football Union (CMRFU) is the governing body of rugby union in Southern Auckland and the Franklin district of New Zealand. The Steelers colours are red, white, and black horizontal bands. The 'Steelers' moniker is a reference to the nearby Glenbrook steel factory. The Union is based in Pukekohe, and plays at ECOLight Stadium, Pukekohe.
The history of Counties has been very much about adventurous football and taking risks, and this was certainly the case initially as the team strove to establish an identity and tradition. First known as South Auckland Counties, the next year they became Counties, and much later Counties-Manukau.
Counties' first game was against Japan in Waiuku in 1955 which they won 15 – 14, led by Barry Baxter. In that inaugural year the team also defeated an Auckland XV twice, the first 19 – 6 on Bledisloe Park, Pukekohe, where the union's first All Black, Pat Walsh scored twice. Counties playing style was enterprising but organised, often frowned upon at the time as lacking in structure, but in reality it was successful.
Barry Bracewell, coach from 1961–63 and 1967–75, adopted a style in conflict with the ethos of the day of forward dominance and percentage safety from the backs. Bracewell and Tauroa after him, selected mobile forwards and loose forwards with exciting backs with attacking gameplans. This era produced some fine All Blacks, including Bruce McLeod, Bob Lendrum, Andy Dalton, John Spiers, Rod Ketels, Bruce Robertson, and Robert Kururangi.
The Counties team of this era had many highlights. The first was Winning the NPC championship in 1979 with wins over Waikato, Wellington, North Auckland, Thames Valley, Bay of Plenty, Poverty Bay, South Canterbury, Manawatu, Taranaki, Otago, Canterbury, and Southland, also beating Victoria and Argentina that year.
Winning the Inter-Dominion Championship (forerunner to the Super 10) against Queensland in Brisbane was another achievement, while the 1982 team beat Australia 15 – 9, which included greats such as David Campese.
Counties has played in many memorable Ranfurly shield challenges over the years. In 1982, playing Canterbury not only for the Ranfurly Shield but also the NPC championship, with Counties ahead 15 – 12 with only minutes remaining, Robert Kururangi intercepted a Canterbury pass and was about to score when the referee dubiously judged him offside, awarding Canterbury the penalty which Robbie Deans successfully kicked to win the championship and retain the shield.
The previous season the shield challenge against Waikato also ended in a draw (21 all) after Counties conceded two late and controversial penalties.
The third log of wood agony came 3 years later in 1985 against Auckland when Counties, down 3 – 12, were denied what appeared to be a perfectly legitimate try to Dave Trombik after the ref received some subtle persuasion by Auckland skipper Andy Haden. Later in the game Warren McClean scored a try for Counties making the final score 9–12. The unfancied Counties side losing in what should have been a well-deserved victory.
After a period of time containing more lows than highs, including a stint in the second division, Counties finally came good during the mid-1990s. A forward packing containing Errol Brain, Jim Coe, Glen Marsh, and Junior Paramore, with backs including Tony Marsh, Blair Feeney, Jonah Lomu, Joeli Vidiri and Dean Sheppard proved one of the best Counties side ever, making the NPC finals twice, in 1996 and 1997, losing to Auckland and Canterbury respectively.
A highlight of that period came in 1997 during the semi-final in Hamilton. Behind at one stage 9 – 33, and stung by a ground announcement advertising tickets for a home Waikato final next week, Counties fought back with a thrilling 43 – 40 win.
After a steady decline since then, Counties lost a promotion-relegation match in 2001, and dropped to the second division. Here, Counties could not retain their best players and lost the likes of Stephen Donald, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Casey Laulala, and Keiran Reid to other unions.
In 2006 Counties was selected to rejoin the top sides in the new Air New Zealand Cup Premier Division, and they still retain their exciting attacking style of rugby. While success has so far been limited, one highlight beating Auckland in 2008, more time in the top division and retaining their tops players, Counties will only get stronger.
Former All Black captain, Tana Umaga, joined Counties as player/coach in 2010 and was appointed head coach in December 2011.
In 2013, after 24 previous unsuccessful Ranfurly Shield challenges – including two draws, the Umaga coached Counties-Manukau team gave Steelers fans something to celebrate when captain Fritz-Lee lifted the Ranfurly Shield for the first time in the province's history following a dramatic 27–24 win over Hawkes Bay.
Ref: Cochrane, P. (2005). Enterprise and Agony. 50 years of Counties Rugby. NZ.
All Blacks and CenturionsCounties players in the All Blacks.
Players who have played 100 or more games for the union.
Air New Zealand/ITM Cup
In 2006 the Steelers finished the first round 5th in Pool B with 9 points, including a win over Southland (29–8). They finished 3rd in Repechage A with 5 points, including a draw with Manawatu (25–25).
In 2007 the Steelers finished 14th with 2 points, from a draw with North Harbour (13–13).
In 2008 the Steelers finished 13th with 13 points, including wins over Auckland (17–6) and Manawatu (27–14).
In 2009 the Steelers finished 14th with 12 points, including wins over Taranaki (33–21) and Northland (28–19).
In 2010 the Steelers finished 9th with 31 points, including wins over Otago (29–13), Wellington (31–25), Manawatu (35–14), Tasman (23–3), Northland (40–24), and North Harbour (24–23).
In 2011 the Steelers finished 4th in the Championship with 22 points, including wins over Manawatu (32–25), Tasman (32–23), Northland (39–19), and North Harbour (40–32).
In 2012 the Steelers finished 1st in the Championship regular season with 34 points, including wins over Southland (30–9), North Harbour (27–15), Bay of Plenty (47–13), Otago (43–12), Manawatu (31–28) and Northland (44–31). They went on to win the Championship title, defeating Southland 48–23 in the semi-finals and Otago 41–16 in the final. The Championship victory also gives the Steelers a place in the 2013 Premiership.
Counties Manukau rugby enjoyed its heyday in the 1980s. Led by Andy Dalton*, the team established grunting forwards including Alan Dawson and a free-wheeling style of backline play based on the silky skills and speed of players such as Bruce Robertson* and Robert Kururangi*. Other notable players from that era included Ken Parry, Paul Wardrop, Jack Kani, Rod Ketels, John Spiers and Lindsay Raki. From 1995 till 1999, captain Errol Brain led another successful era, with famous players such as Jonah Lomu*, Joeli Vidiri*, Danny Lee*, Tony Marsh, and Jim Coe. The "player drain" of stars such as Lomu (Wellington), Vidiri (Auckland), Lee (Otago), and Marsh (France), signalled a downturn in the fortunes of Counties. Other players who have moved on include Kristian Ormsby, Loki Crichton, Stephen Donald*, John Afoa*, and Sitiveni Sivivatu*, Casey Laulala*, Kieran Read* (younger grades)
- [*] denotes a player who achieved All Blacks selection
Counties Manukau in Super Rugby
- "Counties Manukau Steelers 2014 ITM Cup squad". Steelers Rugby. Retrieved 14 July 2014.
- Official site
- Counties Manukau rugby (NZHistory.net.nz)