Sport | Rugby league

Born out of racism, Taniwharau Rugby League Club celebrates 80 years

The club was founded after an act of racism towards Nikora’s grandfather, Tonga, and his people.

2024 marks 80 years Taniwharau Rugby League Club has been showing off its green and gold colours on the rugby league fields in Waikato and afar.

More than 200 members, whānau, and friends of the club descended onto Hukanui a Muri Marae only minutes north of the post-coal mining town of Huntly to celebrate the occasion.

“We are elated, grateful and happy to have come this far, and to celebrate a milestone like this does well for our club,” club captain Erin Paki said.

Paki, old boys rep Harley Raihe and club committee member Jason Thompson presented club badges to 10 of its new life members for their dedication to the club.

The 80th birthday celebrations

The life members have been part of club netball, kapa haka, a brass band, administration and community, and yet Taniwharau claims they are only a handful of the pillars in the club.

“This is the club that took care of me as an outsider on my arrival to this area,” John Rangiteremauri (Barna) Heremia said.

“I married into the club, and my children and my grandchildren are part of this club. It is an honour to be a recipient.”

Out of the ashes of racism

Kawe Nikora, a mokopuna of Tonga Mahuta, a son of the third Māori King, Mahuta, gave a presentation on the history of the club.

The club was founded after an act of racism towards Nikora’s grandfather, Tonga, and his people.

“My grandfather was in the Huntly United team. But when it came to the finals they were taken out and non- Māori were put in the finals. He said, ‘All my people took the club to the finals but when it came to the finals they were all taken out’. That’s how it is, it’s just racism,” Nikora explained.

Rāhui Pōkeka or Huntly, is a town that once boasted four rugby league clubs: the Rangiriri Eels, Huntly South, Huntly United and Taniwharau.

Taniwharau won 11 straight Waikato premierships during the 1970-80s. Taniwharau also won the inaugural Waicoa Bay championship in 2002 and again in 2007, a year in which they went through the season unbeaten; a feat that had never been achieved before at the Waikato Rugby League premier level.

Today there are more than 1000 club members in New Zealand and around the world. NZ Maori Rugby League chair

John Devonshire, and Taniwharau club manager celebrated with the club. “What a spectacle to be here, all of us, to celebrate an awesome occasion,” he said.

The club has led to national and international representative success over the years: Lance Hohaia, New Zealand international, Wairangi Koopu, New Zealand international, Herewini Rangi, New Zealand Warriors player, Andy Berryman New Zealand international, Steve Berryman, Cook Islands international, Don Parkinson, New Zealand international, Rick Muru, New Zealand international, Austin Dias, Wests Tigers player, Mya Hill-Moana New Zealand international and Harata Butler, North Queensland Cowboys player.

The celebration will continue throughout the year, with a book to be launched in November.

The club also hopes to hold its centennial celebration in a new clubhouse.