Every year, the Mitre 10 Cup is the competition that I most look forward to for a multitude of reasons. One of those reasons is the season launch.
Since 2012 – as far as I’m aware – team representatives have duked it out in some way, shape or form at the season launch in an attempt to gain the early edge on the competition. With the 2018 iteration taking place earlier this week, I decided to take a look through the archives and see just what the launch activities are all about.
2012 – Sin-Bins
This activity was ahead of its time. This was the first time – that I could find, at least – where teams took part in some friendly competition during the season launch, following suit after Super Rugby’s Jenga phenomenon one year earlier.
In 2012, ITM Cup coaches assembled at Auckland’s Shed 10 and were tasked with constructing a ‘sin-bin box’. We didn’t realise it then, but life was imitating art as this activity foreshadowed exactly where rugby was headed.
While it looks like Canterbury coach Tabai Matson received the top going for his handiwork at the launch, Pivac made good on his promise of beating his Blues catchment compatriots during the actual season as Auckland beat Harbour 36-13 during round robin play before finishing the competition as runners-up.
Launch Winner: Sorry, everyone gets 10 in the bin for this one
2013 – ITM Cup rides the Game of Thrones wave
In 2013 things got serious as the players were given their chance to shine. In similar fashion to 2012, competitors were again asked to construct something. This time we would move a little closer to the field, from the sin bin to the bench as players built wooden ‘fan thrones’.
Hosted at Auckland’s Unitec campus, players were aided by building apprentices and raced against each other to complete their thrones.
Wellington – led by All Black Jeremy Thrush – beat out a star-studded field and the recently relegated Hawkes Bay to claim the first silverware of the season. Thrush was one of four All Blacks present – the others being Nathan Harris, Rene Ranger and Jamie Mackintosh. Auckland’s Hadleigh Parkes and Canterbury’s Nasi Manu would go on to represent Wales and Tonga respectively.
Launch Winner: The ITM Mascot – I loved this guy in “Child’s Play”.
2014 – The Great Barbecue Cook-Off
2014 saw the ITM Cup launch take a step away from the construction site and into the kitchen as representatives from the 14 provinces came together for a historic barbecue cook-off. Players swapped their headgear for the toque blanche and whipped up some delicious burgers for a panel of judges to enjoy.
After plenty of research I couldn’t find the winner, but was able to find out that Wellington – represented by hard-hitting hooker Motu Matu’u – claimed third place.
Matu’u’s burger was reportedly titled ‘Paua to the People’, which gives us the chance to come up with some more food-based puns to decide who would have taken the top prize.
I feel like a lamb-based ‘Marty Shanks’ burger would have fared well for Tasman, but in my eyes, there is no looking past Counties Manukau’s ‘Aubergine Pulu’.
Launch Winner: Bad puns
2015 – Lunch Tables For Good
The 2015 ITM Cup launch signaled the end of an era. In its last year as the ITM Cup, the naming sponsor made a bold statement.
2015 saw team representatives back on the tools as they built lunch tables for the children of Auckland’s New Windsor School. For the first time, teams donned all-white jumpsuits, hiding the colours of their respective provinces to come together as one collective table-building force and show that this was about more than rugby. This was about the kids.
No doubt the kids appreciated the efforts, with one child dubbing Auckland first-five Dan Bowden’s effort “pretty average” before awarding it a “seven or eight” out of ten.
Heartwarming photos also captured players eating lunch with the children at the new tables. Later Counties Manukau flanker Jimmy Tupou was pictured reading to children, while Tasman’s Shane Christie and Otago’s Craig Millar manned the school traffic signs. Simply and truly inspiring.
Launch Winner: Everyone
2016 – Let’s Get Quizzical
2016 saw Mitre 10 take over naming rights for New Zealand’s provincial competition and the launch competition was downscaled. Construction was at a minimum as coaches assembled at Auckland’s Eden Rugby Club and put together miniature goalposts from PVC pipe.
Getty Image archives tell us there was some sort of quiz that took place, with teams from different regions joining forces. There is no evidence online of a winner, but my money would have been on Canterbury coach Scott Robertson.
Launch Winner: Probably Canterbury
2017 – Paint Bombs
The Mitre 10 Cup turned up the heat in 2017, with players asked to get a bit more creative.
Team representatives jumped into a time machine and were transported back to third form art class as they tried to find the true meaning of provincial rugby by firing paint bombs at a map of New Zealand to ‘mark their territory’.
In an interview with Josh Kronfeld on The Crowd Goes Wild, Hawke’s Bay halfback Brad Weber may have dropped the best soundbite of any provincial competition launch when he said Hawke’s Bay was set to usurp the Bay of Plenty as King of the Bays.
Weber justified his statement by arguing the latter would be too concerned with “checking out hot single mums walking up the Mount [Maunganui] in their activewear.”
Launch Winner: Brad Weber
2018 – Letterboxes
Finally, we arrive at the 2018 iteration. This year’s edition saw history made as, for the first time, representatives from both the Mitre 10 Cup and the Farah Palmer Cup made their way to Gribblehirst Park to launch the season.
The order of the day was letterbox decoration. Some teams came more prepared than others, with Northland’s Matt Moulds crafting his letterbox into a tough-looking Taniwha and Manawatu’s Brayden Iose and Nicole Dickins pulling out all the stops, including a wind turbine, flag and fidget spinners to boot.
Moulds’ solo effort was eventually crowned as best in show and Northland’s 2018 campaign was off to a perfect start.
Launch Winner: Snail Mail – it’s officially BACK