When it comes to rugby in New Zealand it is almost impossible to achieve a first.
However, that is precisely what Wairarapa-Bush has done.
Wairarapa-Bush Rugby Union chief executive Tony Hargood at Trust House Memorial Park in Masterton.
The official opening of the new- look Trust House Memorial Park in Masterton next week marks a significant milestone for rugby not just in Wairarapa but the whole of New Zealand.
The $2.1 million redevelopment features a state-of-the-art 3G artificial surface and stadium lighting, a grass embankment at the northern end and redesigned fence lines and footpaths.
The facility will host rugby, football and several other sporting and community organisations and events.
The Wairarapa Bush Rugby Union will manage the venue as part of its existing lease, supported by the other tenants.
A project of this size has not been attempted anywhere else in New Zealand where provincial teams will compete at a national level.
But it is happening overseas and is expected to become the new norm for rugby and football in New Zealand, putting Wairarapa ahead of the game.
Wairarapa Multi Sports Stadium Trust chairman Jonathan Tanner saidthe opening of the facility was a significant day in the development of many sports throughout the Wairarapa, not just rugby and football.
He believed other provincial regions would be taking notice and were sure to follow suit in the near future.
“Perhaps the biggest thing about the facility is usage; being an artificial surface, usage is not determined by the weather, ” Tanner said.
The former Hurricanes and Wellington Lions player recalled his own playing days when training during the season was largely confined to indoors because the fields were closed.
Wairarapa-Bush Rugby chief executive officer Tony Hargood said park usage was expected to increase from five per cent to 40 per cent.
Night rugby and football is expected to attract bigger audiences, while the Friday night timetable is already booked out, Hargood said.
The project was sponsored by primary funders Lottery Grants Board, Masterton District Council, Trust House and the Eastern and Central Community Trust.
FOOTBALL FINALLY HAS A HOME
Not even rugby’s staunchest supporter could deny Wairarapa United the opportunity to share the new facility at Trust House Memorial Park.
Pushed and shoved from one venue to the next Wairarapa United was facing the very real possibility that it would fold.
Even club stalwart Phil Keinzley admits that he was sliding towards a point of no return.
Remarkably all this was happening in the four years after Wairarapa United had won New Zealand football’s most celebrated prize, the Chatham Cup.
They were use to playing on sub- standard fields but with the Holy Grail of New Zealand football under lock and key for the summer it was anticipated that change would be swift.
Tentative plans were drawn up to develop Howard Booth Park in Carterton where Wairarapa United had been based for several years. Put progress stalled and the club was soon on the move again playing on Queen Elizabeth Park oval in the early part of the season then reverting back to Howard Booth Park for the latter part.
Following grumblings from visiting teams and also Capital Football the decision was made to ditch Howard Booth Park altogether and for much of the 2014 season Wairarapa United was based at Maidestone Park in Upper Hutt.
Meantime, plans were well underway in Masterton to finally build the flagship football side a facility to be proud of.
Realising the windfall that it would be for both codes Wairarapa- Bush Rugby took the initiative and the project to redevelop Trust House Memorial Park was full steam ahead.
For Keinzley, now president of Wairarapa United, the opening of the $2.1 million artificial playing turf is a massive boost for both the club and football in general.
The new facility will better aid player development and help grow football in the region. At the top level it will encourage players to stay and also lure new players here, Keinzley says.
Already there are strong indications that this is working with former English Premier Club and Phoenix professional Paul Ifill moving to Masterton to set up a football academy and also coach the Wairarapa United premier side. Keinzley says that without the promise of the turf there is no way Ifill would have been interested.
Wairarapa United play their first match on the new turf this Saturday, against Hutt-based side Stop Out in the Central League. Kick off, 5.30pm.
OPENING MATCH A RUGBY SPECTACLE
Not since the Hurricanes whirled into town to play the Blues early last year has Trust House Memorial Park staged such a sporting spectacle.
On Thursday April 30, there will be two major differences: The game will be the first professional rugby game on an artificial turf and secondly, the first time a major game has been played in the evening under lights at the Masterton venue.
The Hurricanes and Chiefs development squads will face each other in what promises to be a highly- entertaining clash.
The teams have met already this season with the Hurricanes winning 28-18.
The local franchise’s most recent development outing was last Tuesday in Taupo, when they took on the Blues development team, defeating the side 35-30.
Although the squads have not been announced yet, there is a likely chance that local fans will see players such as All Black prop Jeff Toomaga-Allen, Matt Proctor, Vince Aso, Geoff Cridge, Willis Halaholo and Otere Black feature in the Hurricanes squad.
The Chiefs Development team has recently returned from an eight-day tour of Hong Kong, where they trained and played against the national side.
The tour was preparation for Hong Kong’s upcoming test matches against South Korea and Japan and part of its future goal of qualifying for the Rugby World Cup in 2019 in Japan.
The squad includes Atunaisa Moli, Scott Mellow and Brian Alainu’uese who all played in the 2013 and 2014 IRB Junior World Cups.
Four of the squad, Moli, Ayden Johnstone, Fin Hoeata and Shaun Stevenson have also played for the New Zealand Secondary Schools over the last two years.
The gates open at 5pm when Masterton Red Star and Marist under-8s face each other in a game of rippa rugby, followed by a repeat of last season’s under-10s final between Greytown and Gladstone on one half of the new turf.
The other half of the turf will showcase football with Greytown taking on Douglas Villa in a 7th grade 5-a-side game, and Carterton Scorpions will face Douglas Villa JPL.
This will be followed by a college rugby game between Rathkeale Colts and Wairarapa College Colts.
The new-look Trust House Memorial Trust will be officially opened at 7.15pm with a haka performed by local students.
Tickets for the event are available from Eventfinda, PGG Wrightson, Wairarapa i-Sites and Carterton Events Centre.
FROM SHOWGROUND TO SPORTSGROUND
The idea of a memorial sports ground in Masterton emerged as the war was ending in 1918.
The old showground in Dixon St was acquired by a local committee, which raised money for the project. Two of the group were Donald and Robert Cameron, the father and uncle of Lieutenant Norman Cameron, killed at Gallipoli.
The Cameron brothers provided a large sum to buy the land and the family name was incorporated into the park’s name – one of the few cases where an individual soldier was commemorated.
The park became Masterton’s main rugby ground and was usually shortened to Memorial Park.
The Masterton public preferred a traditional war memorial, so the park did not become the main World War I memorial.
In 1943 it became a military camp for the US Marines and, later, the New Zealand Army. A new grandstand was built in the 1960s.
In 2008, a naming rights deal allowed the park to be known as Trust House Memorial Park. Source: Wairarapa Archive.
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