With the Meads Cup, Lochore Cup and newly instated Bill Osborne Taonga on the line in 2022, there is no shortage of motivation for the 12 Heartland unions.
Check out five things to look forward to in the 2022 season.
SENSATIONAL SOUTH CANTERBURY
Who can stop the green and blacks in 2022? Reigning Meads Cup champions South Canterbury are on an incredible run of 16-straight victories against Heartland opposition, stemming all the way back to their Lochore Cup winning season in 2019 (Covid-19 prevented a full season from taking place in 2020). Their status as a team to beat was enhanced further in their brave Ranfurly Shield challenge against Bunnings NPC heavyweights Hawke’s Bay in late June. South Canterbury crossed the Magpies line three times in a memorable 38-20 loss that at times threatened to return the ‘Log o Wood’ to the Heartland unions for the first time in almost 50 years. South Canterbury kick off their Meads Cup title defense against Thames Valley in Temuka this Saturday in a match that will be broadcast live on Sky Sport and Prime.
NEW PRIZES UP FOR GRABS
While the Meads Cup and Lochore Cup have been in existence since the inaugural season of the Heartland Championship in 2006, there are two newer treasures on the line in 2022 which reflect the history and heritage of Heartland rugby. The Bill Osborne Taonga was won by Poverty Bay in a fifth-place playoff last year and will be played under similar rules to the Ranfurly Shield where it is defended by the holder at all home matches. Poverty Bay’s first defence will come in round two when they face Wairarapa-Bush at home in Gisborne. From this season, the Bunnings Warehouse Heartland Championship Player of the Year award will become the Ian Kirkpatrick Medal in recognition of the legendary former All Blacks Captain, loose forward and current NZR Patron. Kirkpatrick, who played 113 matches for the All Blacks, got his representative rugby start with a Heartland Union, for the combined Poverty Bay-Ngāti Porou East Coast side after leaving Auckland’s Kings College.
COMING TO A TV NEAR YOU
For the first time in the history of the Bunnings Warehouse Heartland Championship, one match per week will be broadcast live on Sky and available free-to-air on Prime for the 2022 season. The competition had a great 2021, with a selection of high-profile players taking the field and Sky broadcasting six matches explains Steve Lancaster, New Zealand Rugby General Manager Community Rugby. “We want to build on last year and provide fans with more opportunities to tune in as well as showcase all levels of provincial rugby across the entire country. To lock in the live broadcast of one Bunnings Warehouse Heartland Championship match a week with the support of SKY as a partner is fantastic,” said Lancaster. Round one will see two games broadcast live with South Canterbury v Thames Valley live on Sky Sport and Prime and Wairarapa-Bush and North Otago live on Sky Sport.
MANU FOR MID CANTERBURY
There’s one name that sticks out like a beacon on the Mid Canterbury team sheet this year. Former Super Rugby champion and Tonga captain Nasi Manu will provide plenty of experience and go-forward power as Mid Canterbury look to improve on their sixth-place finish in 2021. Manu has just finished a stint playing in the Japanese Top League and settled in Ashburton. At 34-years of age, Manu still has plenty to offer both on and off the field. As a leader, Manu’s experience and calming presence will be invaluable for the younger members of the Mid Canterbury squad.
Look no further than King Country and Thames Valley in 2022 to underline the rich history and heritage of the Heartland Unions. Both unions are celebrating their centenaries in 2022 and have several events and initiatives scheduled to acknowledge the milestone. Thames Valley have a whole weekend of celebrations lined up over the weekend of 26/27 August while King Country will be wearing a jersey which harks back to the formative years of the union. Check out the Thames Valley and King Country websites and follow their social media channels for updates on their centenary celebrations. Wairarapa Bush are also celebrating 50 years with a weekend of celebrations from September 10-12.