Ratana hunt for trophy, sponsor, and Premier

By Jared Smith

After two finals appearances and one championship in two seasons of Tasman Tanning Senior rugby, Ratana served notice they are still powerhouses in the first round of the new-look Division 1 on Saturday.

The little club from the Pa continues their journey to try to return to the heights of the early 2000’s when they won the rare Premier championship three-peat – the mid 2010’s saw them revert to being a one-team club, then self relegate out of the top grade after a series of fruitless campaigns.

But with the 100th anniversary on the horizon in 2025, Ratana seemed to be on a little shaky ground as they defaulted their opening game of this season against McCarthy’s Transport Ruapehu.

This also came at a time when Harvey Round Motors winding down meant the conclusion of an 11 year naming-rights sponsorship deal.

In the extremely tough Senior Country group, Ratana had to work hard to overcome Bennett’s Taihape (19-15) and Kelso Hunterville (29-24) in the Pa, while their match with Rangitikei cousins JJ Walters Marton was cancelled due to the death of Rehimana Meihana, the tumuaki of the Rātana Church of NZ.

A 29-12 win away to Utiku Old Boys secured the spot in Division 1, but with the teams they had not played in Ruapehu and Marton also going through, while travelling to face an unbeaten Gemini Pepper Construction Kaierau, Ratana remained a somewhat unknown quantity for this season.

That was answered with a comfortable 28-10 victory at the Country Club on Saturday.

“Kaierau, that wasn’t the type of game we wanted to play – it was a bit of a scrag,” said returning head coach Cornell Mason,

“We needed to change and disrupt them. That won’t work with everyone.”

Having previously coached both Ratana and Marton at Premier level, Mason takes over from his nephew and fellow club legend Leon, who remains a key player but is loosening his commitments so he can watch his son play in Manawatu.

After only 12 players came to his initial training, Mason took the decision to default to Ruapehu – a big call to “put the shivers up them”.

It worked – there were 25 players at the next training and 31 are on the books altogether – the message sent that the casual approach will no longer be tolerated.

“So this year was really about getting the team back on the field.”

These past few years Ratana have had the issue of talented players sometimes growing at a faster rate than the overall competition.

Look around most Premier squads or the other leading Senior clubs and St Johns Whanganui Metro in the MRU Colts grade, and you will invariably find a player with Ratana roots.

It really was Ratana’s afternoon all around at the Country Club, as the Premier game saw former Steelform Whanganui representative Cody Hemi and young goal-kicker Brooklyn Herewini give star turns, as Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau upset Waverley Harvesting Border 27-24.

“There’s always a reason we send our boys up there. It’s to learn composure,” said Mason, who has other Whanau who travelled out of the Pa to join other clubs.

But all going to plan, don’t be surprised to see a few familiar names coming home in 2023 – the Pa is calling.

“We’re going to have a crack next year – we’re going to Prems,” Mason said.

“Premier rugby is where the pinnacle is.”

But for now, there’s a Senior championship to reclaim, and hopefully, a new sponsor will want to come on board as the club looks to reclaim its place in the WRFU limelight.

Due to Queen’s Birthday weekend, there is no WRFU club rugby this weekend.