Although the early informal games of the young boys in these years were treated in a light-hearted manner to start with, enthusiasm grew and keen rivalry soon developed between the various new teams. Written challenges with team names listed were issued and games played regularly on the racecourse on Thursday afternoons and some weekday evenings under the same arrangements as the Senior clubs.
In the years from 1888 onwards the rapid growth of rugby as a sport in New Plymouth saw numerous new informal teams of younger player forming as follows:
- The “Moonlighters” who practiced on Major Paris’s section in the vicinity of Weymouth Street
- “lrishtown” who practiced in Black’s paddock in Veale’s Estate – now known as Lynmouth
- “Tukapa” who practiced in the Dartmoor area of Westown – near Gladstone Road and opposite what is now Sanders Park
- “Starlighters” who practiced in a paddock opposite the Red House Hotel, now known as the State Hotel in the area now occupied by Cleggs’ Furniture Court in Devon St East
- “Pirates”, mainly messenger boys, who practiced in the same area as the Starlighters
In 1889 the older boys of the “Starlighters and Pirates” formed themselves into the Star Rugby Football Club and this club performed with such credit and received such strong support from players and supporters that it soon displaced the original New Plymouth Rugby Club as the biggest club in town. Significantly the majority of the members belonging to the Star Club were selected from players who lived to the east of the Huatoki river. A couple of years later a new senior club was to form based around players who resided mostly to the west of the Huatoki.
Photo: The original Tukapa team of 1892
During 1891 the older and more mature young men who had congregated as part of the young groups known as the “Moonlighters” “Irish Town” and “Tukapa”, and who lived mainly west of the Huatoki river, found that there was no room for them in the teams fielded by the Star Club and so they eventually decided to have a meeting to discuss whether they should form another senior club which could field a team of players capable of measuring up to the standard of the other established senior clubs playing at the time i.e. Inglewood, Clifton, Star, Tariki, Maunganui and Stratford.
Accordingly, the first meeting was held in 1892 in the shed of Webster’s Store at the western end of the Salvation Army Barracks on the corner of Brougham Street and Powderham Street where the Salvation Army Citadel now stands. This shed was owned by W. D. Webster who was a general merchant and agent for the Northern Steamship Company and the name of Webster continued to feature prominently in the Tukapa Club from its formation right through to the 1990’s.
At this meeting it was decided to form a Rugby Football Club and officers were elected as follows:
- President: E. le G. Jacob
- Vice President: W. Francis
- Vice President: Fred Watson
- Secretary/Treasurer: J.C. Webster
From that meeting onwards there has been a rugby club in Westown known proudly as Tukapa which has flourished ever since.
The Word “Tukapa”
The origin of the Tukapa name (as told by an old Maori source) is that local whaler Dicky Barrett required men to stoke the fires under the whaling coppers he operated on Ngamotu Beach as part of his long established whaling station. The process involved stripping blubber off whale carcasses and then rendering the flesh down into oil by boiling it in large copper vats. Apparently one of the men who worked the coppers was a longtime resident of what is now Westown. Eventually this character became nick-named as “two coppers” after the work he was so well known for doing. Somehow over time the nick-name had morphed into the word “Tukapa” and gradually the district where “two coppers” lived also became known as Tukapa. Subsequently, the Geographical Board in Wellington made an inspection of the Survey Map on which this district was marked as Tukapa. No Maori word or meaning could be found for Tukapa so the Geographical Board changed the name on the Survey Map to Tukapo – a Maori word which later became the name of the main road through the growing district of what became known as Westown. The street continued to be spelt as Tukapo until 1968 when it was corrected back to become Tukapa Street.
Naming the New Club
Getting the right name for a new club could have been real challenge given that the new entity was formed by a merger of three existing groups of players. As legend has it the naming of the present club as Tukapa came about more by accident than design.
At the original 1892 meeting in Webster’s premises in Powderham Street, when the name for the new club was being discussed, Harry Langman who was an accomplished player on the tin whistle, said he would play a tune while the others concentrated on thinking up an appropriate name.
Harry Langman came from Westown, then known as Tukapa, and when he finished playing someone in the meeting shouted: “Good Old Tukapa.” Immediately it was unanimously decided that the Club would be known as the Tukapa Club and so it has remained.
The Club Colours
The first meeting which formed the Tukapa club in 1892 decided on colours of navy blue jerseys, white knickerbockers down to (and sometimes below) the knees and navy blue socks. The name, Tukapa, was hand stitched in white letters across the front of the jersey. However ,at the annual meeting in 1893, the navy blue jerseys were changed to narrow blue and white hoops, with the hoops being about 2 inches wide.
In 1929 “black pants” replaced the white “knickers”. In 1949 the “black pants” were replaced by white shorts. By the 1920’s the blue and white hoops had become a lot wider than the original hoops being approximately 4 inches compared with the original English-style of approximately 2 inches. In 1974 it was decided that the uniform of the Club should be blue and white jerseys and royal blue shorts.
Photo: First Senior A championship team - 1897
Heading into the Tukapa Centenary in 1992, the Club had won 53 afternoon grade championship titles as at the conclusion of the 1991 season. Since then the Club has collected another 19 titles to bring the tally up to 72 in total in the years 1892 to 2020 inclusive.
Prior to 1980, the Colts (U21’s) were referred to as Third Grade; altogether the Colts have been our most successful grade with 18 Taranaki titles up till 2016 including six in a row during the 1930’s.
Winning championship titles tends to occur in cycles; the Colts had a dominant phase in the 1930’s with six titles in a row from 1934 to 1939 inclusive. Likewise, the Senior Thirds (previously known as the Senior 4ths and now called Division 2), enjoyed two purple patches: the first from 1973-75 (3 titles in a row) and the second golden run in the years 2001-2012 during which they won eight titles, including four in a row 2001-2004. The Senior A’s have won back-to-back titles three times; (1968-69 and 2010-11 & 2016-17); the Senior B’s (previously known as the Junior Open) won four titles during the 1960’s plus a back-to-back success in 1969-70.
Not to be overlooked either is the success of two other age group teams fielded by the Club back in the days when teenage sides were a feature of club rugby and not the monopoly of secondary schools i.e. our Fifth Grade (U16’s) team, who won championships in 1936, 1837, 1955 and 1961 as well as the Under 17’s who won championships in 1988 (with Lyndon Bell as coach and Greg Wood as captain) and in 1990 (with Hank Harrison as coach and Greg Plimmer as captain).
Also notable, has been the success of our Under 13’s (originally called 9th Grade and later known as 12th Grade) who won three championships in the 1950’s (1953, 1955, 1957) and another three in the mid-2000’s (2004, 2006, 2007).
Our two longest-serving afternoon grade coaches have been former All Black Charlie Brown who coached the Senior A’s for 18 straight seasons between 1922 and 1939 inclusive (winning four championship titles along the way) and Wayne Penn who coached the Senior Fourths (which became the Senior Thirds and are now known as Division Two) for 18 consecutive seasons from 1998 till 2015 collecting eight championship titles during his stint as coach.
As noted above, Tukapa RFC has won an overall total of 72 afternoon grade championship titles in the 129 years 1892 to 2020, with the most successful teams being:
Senior A Titles
Senior B Titles
Senior Fourths Titles (now called Div. 2)
Despite the ravages of Covid-19 halving the Club season, the end results in 2020 were positive for Tukapa RFC with all three of the teams we fielded in afternoon grades making their semi-finals. In the end, after a much-delayed start, the club season kicked off comprising one full round of matches followed by semis and the grand final.
For our Senior A’s, the season was a great success going unbeaten and collecting all the famous inter-club trophies we cherish so much at the Chookhouse, these being the Ibbotson Cup (v. NPOB), the Dan O’Brien Shield (v. Spotswood United) and the Craig Eaton Trophy (v. Coastal).
In the Premier final we came up against the home team Inglewood in a match played at the TET Stadium under Covid level 2 restrictions meaning there was no crowd in attendance. This meant only 200 loyal Blue and White supporters were able to watch the livestream coverage of the match on big screens back at the Chookhouse, while everyone else had to watch at home as best they could manage. In the end, the lack of a crowd made no difference to our boys who ran out 33 to 29 winners in the grand final to complete a 9 out of 9 winning streak for the season. This win saw our Senior A’s collect their third championship final in five seasons and make Tukapa the most successful Premier title-winning club in Taranaki with 17 championships, equal with NPOB.
For our Senior B’s, it was a much-improved performance in 2020 resulting in them going all the way to a semi-final against the eventual champions Southern on a day when the Senior A’s were also playing their semi in New Plymouth at a similar time in the afternoon. This incredibly unhelpful piece of match scheduling by the TRFU meant our Senior B’s were deprived of several Senior A players who would otherwise have played at least half a match for the B’s. The final result was a one-point loss to our B’s after a really gutsy effort by them.
Our Senior Thirds made it all the way through to their final against Normanby on a backfield at TET Stadium. After a very tight tussle, our boys came up short losing 11-13. Although we were unable to field a Colts team in 2020, our Junior ranks were once again the largest in the province with almost 250 players in 15 teams.
Rep players from our Senior ranks were Mitchell Croswell, Jayson Potroz, Jacob Kneepkens, Lukas Halls and Ricky Riccitelli (all Taranaki Bulls) plus Jackson Clarke, Lukas Halls, Mairenga Laapo, Ethan Seed and Joshua Hopkins (all Taranaki Under 19). Ricky Riccitelli (Hurricanes) was our only Super Rugby representative in 2020. From the Juniors, the following players were selected for either the North or West regional teams for the Ross Brown Primary Schools tournament: Charley Lahmert, Ben Sinclair, Jahmarlie Jack, Cejay Cave, Jack Kershaw, Lian Du Boisson, Matty McKenzie, Neo Fraser, Phoenix Fraser, Regan Hunger and Lachlan Slingsby. At the 2020 Senior prizegiving, the Len Earby Trophy for player of the year was Jayson Potroz with Cam Eyre receiving the Thomson Medal for outstanding contribution to the club and the Rookie of the Year was Jacob Kneepkens. The Rylock Cup for most individual points went to Jayson Potroz while the Peter Jones Cup for most tries scored went to Jimi Webley. The inaugural recipient of the Chook of the Year award was Greg Miles. Chosen at the AGM in November to be awarded the prestigious Harry Boswell Prize was Senior A team manager Dan Johanson.
On a sombre note, the Club lost the following Tukapa stalwarts during 2020: Brian Holdt, Bob O’Dowda and Keith Roebuck.
Photo: Senior A championship team - 2020