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From most accounts the history of Manawatu Rugby League began in Febuary, 1957. Games of rugby league may have been played prior to this date however sufficient factual and accurate records were not kept.
The introduction of rugby league to the district was a result of a meeting of interested parties convened at the Kiwi Gymnasium in Palmerston North by the instrumental work of W O Lisle, known to most as "Bud" an ex NZ Schoolboy, a Wellington Senior Representative player and a Life Member of Manawatu Rugby League at the age of 28, in 1958. The result of the meeting was a set up of six clubs in the district, claiming some 300 players. Takaro, Kiwi, Celtic, Kia Ora, Marton and Feilding were the six pioneering clubs. Four grounds were allocated to rugby league, Coronation Park being the main one.
The first Board of Control was headed by N Johnson as the President and George Gray sat as the Secretary.
In June 1957 Manawatu Rugby League hosted its first official non-club match at Memorial Park. Two games were played that day. The first being, Town Reps versus Country Reps who curtain raised for the Maori versus Pakeha game. The attendance that day was recorded at well over 1000 with the final score being 18 all.
Noel Pidding an ex Australian International played for Marton. His experience proving to be of great help to those working for the advancement of the game in Manawatu.
Feilding won the first ever Championship title going against Takaro. Feilding was represented by individuals made up from the Feilding Freezing Works; Takaro mainly of Railway workers.
Kia Ora represented the Maori faction of the rugby league community in Palmerston North; Kiwi was made up of players originating from the Kiwi Gymasium and most players in Celtic were from the Lomgburn Freezing Works near Palmerston North
In the sixties rugby league took a new turn, sport coupled with recreational activities.
From the beginning of the 60's representative football in the Manawatu remained somewhat stagnant, new clubs formed and the originals stayed.
The 60's saw the inclusion of players such as A Rewi, T Woon, F Hohepa, R Gosling and J Turner into the representative side which gave the team its gradual peak leading into further decades.
Later in 1967 saw Manawatu face an extremely busy season, the team under its ever changing management crew, showed such big improvement over the decade that if injuries had not prevented them from assembling their strongest side they may well have registered their first Provincial victory for some years.
In the 70's saw rugby league grow again in the Manawatu starting the representative season off the bottom of the ranking table at 9th with Otago and Northland below. The decade was also a time marked with Mrs Donna Rewi being the first ever women to be invited into a National Code Conference.
With the inclusion of Roy Roberts from Auckland and Massey University entering the local competition league was certainly on the up and up for the region.
1971 remained to be the representative team's most successful season with its first ever registered win against Bay of Plenty 24 - 19.
In the mid 70's Marist, another newly formed team, ventured to Carlaw Park where they defeated Auckland B. A certain first in anyone's book.
Towards the end of the decade a meeting chaired by an NZRL representative decided that the preceding season would be made up of two zones. The first included all Wanganui teams, Marton and Patea, and the second Palmerston North teams, Dannevirke and Levin. The top three sides of each zone would form a Premiers, the bottom three of each the Seniors.
Another decade, another first. The 80's saw Womens League being played in the region. Games, it is said, that glorified the epitome of clubmanship and sporting velour.
In 1982 (MRL's 25th year) teams now included Pahiatua, Woodville, Dannevirke, Palmerston North, Feilding, Marton and Wanganui. This season was also great for the representative Manawatu side with defeats over both their rivals, Hawkes Bay and Gisborne, narrowly losing the Second Division final.
The mid 80's saw Manawatu Rugby League with it's first charge ground at the Trotting Park and saw the inclusion of four new teams, Waiouru, Kaitoke, Linton and Awapuni.
The 90's also saw some first time highlights.
The Manawatu Representative side beat Taranaki at Memorial Park, a grand occasion enjoyed by all!
Kia Ora travelled down to the Canterbury champions Homby and defeated them 26 - 20 to win the Lion Red Cup. That season , Kia Ora were also victorious over Wanganui Rams in the Premier Final 26 - 0.
The decade also saw the ruling of Premier grade having to front up with Juniors. Although the BOC at the time took a lot of flack over the direction, Manawatu Rugby League produced and sustained the first ever Junior Competition in it's 50 year history. The region boasted all grades, from under 7's through to under 19's at one point. Juniors as it was became the main focus of rugby league here and remained so right through the later stages of the nineties.
With Ray Dyason in the Chairperson position the office was situated at his home in Palmerston North.
Shortly after his tenure, a new office in Victoria Avenue along with a long term leasing partnership with the Manawatu Cricket Association and the Palmerston North City Council of Fitzherbert Park were secured. These venues became the home to Manawatu Rugby League for both it's business, local Representative and finals games and also the Central Falcons Franchise. For the first time in a long while League in the district was being run with the Board of Control acting striclty as a governing body. Mr Alex Whaiopu took the league to another level with Ed Te Tau and the Board.
The lucrative funding dollar was being accessed to drive the every day operations of the game alongside the trust and pub charities, but a first came when individuals were being paid a salary for their services. Club affiliations were still paid but the League was no longer reliant on that dollar to survive. In 2004 the Chairmanship changed again with Barrie Law at the helm. Stalwarts of our game Butch Jarvis and Dickie Puohotaua were an integral part of the Board of Control at the time. Butch also being a part of the Judisciary Board and Dickie working as a Coaching and Development Manager for Manawatu Rugby League.
Events for Manawatu Rugby League took another opportunists turn when the League was accepted as a tenant into the Sports House sector of Sport Manawatu in Queen Street, Palmerston North. Networks were plenty and since the move the League has certainly strided forward with easy and plentiful access to courses, network opportunities, assistance and most importantly information.
Chairpersons since 2008 Mere Miratana, Buster Taylor, Pat Tautu, Shane Clements and Nik Bartels (Co Chairs).