Stokes Valley celebrating 70th Jubilee this weekend

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Photo: Stokes Valley RFC

The Delaney Park clubrooms will be a popular place this Saturday with the Stokes Valley Rugby Football Club celebrating its first 70 years.

“We have got people coming from Australia and around the country and a lot of players from the 1970s, 80s and 90s for our celebration so some good stories should be told,” says club Chairman Graeme Hardie.

Formed in 1949, the club has had its ups and downs but continues to be an important part of the Stokes Valley community.

“We have got three senior teams – First Grade, Reserve Grade and Presidents. We have got junior teams in every grade and we have got six netball teams as part of the club.”

Hardie says inclusiveness is a key to the survival of the club in what are tough times for local sport in general. “It is also having an open-door policy for whoever wants to be involved, whether that is playing, managing or supporting.

“In recent times we have also formed an alliance with our local Samoan church. They use the clubrooms on a Sunday and some of them play for us.”

Like all community clubs, there is a big emphasis on whanau. “A lot of the parents of the kids that play are members of the senior club, on and off the field.”

The club was formed on 18 January 1949 and started with one team in the Junior 2nd Grade, growing to four teams by 1964. In 1965 the club gained "Senior" status in the Senior 3rd Grade and between then and 1989 (next 25 years) the club grew in size, averaging 8-10 teams per year with the top team in either the Senior 3rd or Senior 2nd Grade.

In the 1990 and 1991 seasons, the club was at its zenith with 11 teams and the Senior 2nd team winning promotion against University to the top WRFU grade Senior 1sts in 1991. This grade became the Premier Grade in 1992 and the club held Premier status for four seasons, contesting the Swindale Shield and Hardham Cup.

A group of people have been with the club over a long period, including Hardie who started at Stokes Valley 24 years ago. “We have got Life Members in Trevor Couchman and Steve Windmill who are both still very active and they have been with the club for well over 40 years.”

Hardie and Couchman are both active WRRA referees.

In the modern era, Hardie says a highlight for the club was winning the Premier Reserve Ed Chaney Cup in 2008.

Several players have played higher rugby whilst representing the club, such as Neroli Knight who was a Black Fern in the early 1980s and No.8 John Cummings who played for Wellington and captained Wairarapa-Bush in the early 1980s.

Several juniors have gone on in recent seasons to forge successful careers in professional rugby, such as Brad Shields, Mike Kainga, Jason Woodward and Kat Whata-Simpkins.

Plus, a number of former Stokes Valley juniors are active playing Premier and Premier Reserve rugby for other clubs in the Hutt Valley and Wellington.

Hardie says there is a positive future. “We are living in changing times, but we are changing with the times. This weekend is a celebration of 70 years, but it is also the start of our re-birth as a rugby club for the next generation.”

On the field, Stokes Valley’s top team were hoping to earn promotion to the HD Morgan Memorial grade starting this Saturday. To do so they needed to have wrapped up the first round First Grade Thompson Memorial Trophy with two weeks to spare (as that grade is still being played beyond this Saturday). They would have done this if not for the Avalon Knights beating the HOBM Barbarians this past weekend.

Thus, the team’s goal for the remainder of 2019 is to win the First Grade first and second round double, which HOBM achieved last year.