It was May 1992 when the New South Wales Rugby League announced that the Auckland Warriors would be joining the Winfield Cup in three seasons’ time.
Time to spend designing a logo, hiring management staff and coaches, finding sponsors, players, coaches and building a fanbase.
By the time that inaugural game came, against the Brisbane Broncos in March 1995, the club had already become the strongest, most-popular sporting brand in the country outside of the All Blacks.
The excitement leading up to that Broncos match has rarely been lived up to since, but that shouldn’t diminish the sense of occasion around that moment. It had been years in the making and the club were as prepared as any new franchise has ever been.
Had it not been for an interchange infringement, late in a match they won comfortably over Western Suburbs, the Warriors would’ve played finals football in year-one as well.
As I write this, it’s October 5 2020. We’re yet to be given specific dates for the next Super Rugby Aotearoa season, but we can definitely say that competition is months – rather than years – away.
From New Zealand Rugby (NZR) right on down to we rank and file rugby fans, everyone would like to see a Pasifika side in Super Rugby next year. It’s overdue, it would bring a huge amount to the competition, but it’s still all pie in the sky for the time being.
As it stands, NZR will stage the competition with just five teams. They want to expand and want to include a Pacific side, but have said none are ready to go in time for 2021.
It appears we can dismiss Kanaloa Hawaii as a candidate. Despite a quotable chief executive, the fledgling franchise doesn’t boast a lot else.
Moana Pasifika looks interesting, but where’s the substance? There’s plenty of good sentiment, but where are the players coming from, who’s coaching and who’s paying for everything?
New Zealand Rugby are being painted as cruel and uncaring for not including a Pacific side for next year and our increasingly militant players’ association are among the many people said to be outraged and disappointed.
Surely they’re not expecting NZR to finance and resource Moana Pasifika?
Our governing body can barely maintain the teams we’ve got and aren’t being helped by talk some All Blacks might favour Christmas at home with the family over fulfilling their international obligations. Never mind that these test matches have only been scheduled so that NZR can keep paying those players their wages.
The talk on the governing body’s side is of fears a franchise, put together in haste, would not be competitive and would “cannibalise’’ the five existing franchises, which sounds logical enough.
Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest appears something of an acquired taste. The mining magnate, turned Western Force saviour, believes in both rugby and Western Australia, though, and set about maintaining a professional team in that state despite the loss of Super Rugby status and the bulk of their players.
He kept the Force alive, created a competition for them to play in and then found himself invited back to Australian Super Rugby’s top table. If the rumours are right, NZR are now considering the Force for a spot in our expanded Super competition.
If NZR announced that Super Rugby Aotearoa was starting tomorrow, and the Western Force were in it, Forrest would find a way to make it happen.
No-one disputes the contribution of Pacific people to All Blacks rugby. It’s been a telling one and one that, until now, hasn’t been given the recognition it’s due.
Rugby in New Zealand is better for the involvement of Samoan, Tongan and Fijian families and we are creating more inclusive and diverse communities because of it.
But does that oblige NZR to bankroll a Pacific franchise or admit one to Super Rugby that’s been hurriedly put together? They’ve said they want to expand the competition for 2022 so would it not make sense for Moana Pasifika – like those who were behind the Warriors – to go away and create a compelling business model for inclusion?
Maybe they could even take a leaf from Forrest’s book and simply set a team up anyway?
In these straightened financial times, NZR is simply not in a position to absorb the costs associated with suddenly setting a Super Rugby franchise up from scratch. That’s just a fact, not criminal neglect or a slap in the face or anything of the sort.
Many of us long for the day when a Pasifika side achieves Super Rugby status but, with the best will in the world, 2021 would seem a little too soon.
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