Battle begins tomorrow

Hautapu and Leamington club members Mark Nogaj, Dave Peters, Cam Bourke and Chris Gillies, pictured at the “Battle” grounds, can’t quite agree on who will win Saturday’s game. “It will be decided by who’s playing with the wind,” said Dave.

Cambridge’s 2019 champions of rugby and netball will be determined tomorrow with the Battle of the Bridge sports tournament.

Played between the Hautapu and Leamington clubs, the event sees rugby and netball players over 30 years of age go head to head. Resurrected in 2013 after going defunct in the 1990s, the annual event is a steadfast tradition for Cambridge sports fans.

“It’s rivalry with a bit of tongue and cheek,” explained Dave Peters from the Leamington Rugby Club, which is hosting this year’s event. “It’s a nice, friendly relaxed atmosphere after the game, and a fun, aggressive competitive atmosphere during the game.

“There’s a bit of a competitive angle to it, but there’s also a mateship angle to it, it’s so unique. You wouldn’t get that in Auckland or Hamilton or anywhere else,” said Mark Nogaj, a Hautapu club member and one of the organisers of the 2013 come-back. “Both teams have guys in their 50s playing so it’s going to be really good.

“I’m predicting at least 10 hamstrings will go during the game.”

“It’s a bloody good day, and you’d probably get a bigger crowd here than at Waikato’s Mitre 10 Cup game,” said Cam Bourke from Hautapu. “And it’s not really just about the game itself, but the supporters too, like guys that are in their 50s and 60s and 70s who have played against each other for rival clubs can meet up and go, ‘remember back in the day…’.”

“Leamington hosted the first (2013) Battle of the Bridge event and that crowd was huge, considerably larger than the rowing world cup finals, it was packed,” said Mark. “And I think this time it will be even bigger.”

That 2013 rugby game finished in a draw, with the following two years resulting in a win for Hautapu, then victory for Leamington in 2016 and another draw in 2017. There was no event in 2018.

Leamington hosted the last Battle of the Bridge event in 2017, which ended in a draw.

Adding to the excitement is the rarity of Hautapu and Leamington coming together on the rugby field at all. The two clubs haven’t played in the same senior rugby division since 2004.

“It’s really cool that we actually get to play each other, because usually we do our own thing,” said Cam. “We actually don’t come together except for once a year.

“No doubt the pub will be empty, there will be no where else to go in town but here.”

“Just come and enjoy a feed, watch a bit of sport and then have a bit of a party afterwards,” said Dave.

The event kicks off at 11am with Cambridge High School playing Matamata in the final of the Waikato secondary schools premier first-fifteen competition, followed by the Leamington vs Hautapu netball game at 12pm. Then at 1pm a Cambridge team will take on Piako in the Stan Meads Cup competition, followed by the Battle of the Bridge rugby game kicking off at 2.45pm. A ladies’ tug of war competition will also be held at half time, officiated by local sporting legend Doug Mienie, with volunteers for each team sourced from the crowd.

Organisers say spectators don’t have to be with either club to attend, but encourage all sports fans to come on down and cheer on the players.

2019 Battle of the Bridge rugby teams

Hautapu’s team for Battle of the Bridge. Photo – Michael Jeans.

 

The Leamington team line up for Battle of the Bridge. Photo – Catherine Fry.

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