The formation of the Tasman Rugby Union was primarily driven to allow the region to field a team – the Tasman Mako - in the 14-team premier 2006 national provincial competition (the NPC).
On the field Tasman finished their inaugural season in 12th spot with three of wins and in 2007 won two for 11th spot. They were disappointing records, but there were signs of on-field competitiveness - if the Union could just stay afloat.
In 2008, the Union's bankers, BNZ, advised that due to reneged loan repayments, Lansdowne Park in Blenheim would need to be sold. It was bought by the Marlborough District Council to ensure it remained a recreational area and rugby ground for the region.
The loss of Marlborough Rugby’s prized asset hurt many rugby supporters in Marlborough who wanted out of the amalgamation.
To survive the recently appointed Union CEO, Peter Barr, set about cutting costs, including a self-imposed salary cap, a reduction in contracted players from 55 to 28 and lowered funding for representative programmes.
Despite the off-field turmoil, Tasman finished in 7th spot on the back of four wins.
Tasman's future grew even murkier when the NZRU announced a proposed reduction in 2009 of the NPC from 14 teams to 12. Tasman was now under attack from outside and within.
TRU sent Barr, chairman Max Spence and coach Todd Blackadder to Wellington to make a last-ditch plea to the NZ Rugby to save their fledgling Union.
NZR CEO Steve Tew took notice and the Makos were given a stay of execution - with the proviso they sort out their infighting and their finances.
As NZR's deadline to prove themselves financially sound loomed, a rescue package arrived from benefactors, later be revealed to be a consortium of the Marlborough District Council, Nelson City, the Crusaders and Nelson Pine Industries, a long-time commercial partner of Nelson Bays and Tasman Rugby.
In 2009, on the back of financial difficulties for the smaller Unions and pressure by the larger Unions, NZ Rugby again decided to reduce the competition, this time to 10 teams. Tasman looked sure to be culled.
An outcry of public support for Tasman was highlighted by a "Save the Mako" campaign, including presentation to a petition signed by 14,000 supporters in Nelson and Marlborough keen on keeping their team in the top division.
The outpouring of support from fans in the smaller Unions persuaded Tew and NZ Rugby to maintain the 14-team competition from 2010 onwards.
In 2009 Tasman won six matches to secure 9th spot, and in 2010 the team secured 12th spot with 4 wins.
2011 was the lowest point for the Union with just two wins and a last placed 14th position on the table. There was now only one way for the team to go. Simultaneously, on the back of a successful Rugby World Cup in NZ, the Union received funds from NZ Rugby that finally put an end to the Union’s deficit.
The coaches of the 2011 team, former All Blacks Kieran Keane and Leon MacDonald, were both proud and fiercely competitive local rugby men. They went to newly appointed CEO Andrew Flexman and demanded investment in some quality players from outside the region to complement very talented local players for the 2012 season.
Relatively established local players such as Robbie Malneek, Joe Wheeler, Quentin MacDonald, Andrew Goodman, Shane Christie and Tom Marshall were joined by exciting new talent from club rugby like Liam Squire, Tim Perry, James Lowe and Kieron Fonotia.
Added to the mix were experienced recruits such as Campbell Johnstone, Bryce Heem, Tevita Cavubati and Peter Betham, plus a young Canterbury loan player, Jordan Taufua.
The team played attractive rugby and made the semi-finals of the Championship division, losing to Otago but showing significant promise for the future.
In 2013 many of these players, joined now by the likes of Marty Banks, Billy Guyton and solid props Sila Puafisi and Siosiua Halanukonuka, really hit their straps winning the Championship Cup Final.
On a big occasion at Trafalgar Park, Nelson the Tasman Mako prevailed over Hawkes Bay to complete a rapid rise from the competition cellar and earn promotion into the Premiership division.
Subsequently, under the leadership of CEO Tony Lewis, Tasman have made the Final in 2014, 2016 and 2017 and the semi-finals in 2015 and 2018.
The major competitive breakthrough for the Union came in December 2018 with the winning of the National Sevens Championship title in Taupo, and in October 2019 with the Tasman Mako being crowned the Mitre 10 Cup Premiership winners after an Undefeated 12 game season. The Mako went back-to-back winning the 2020 Premiership Cup with a thrilling 13-12 victory against favourites Auckland.
These teams were superbly captained by David Havili under the coaching helm of Andrew Goodman & Clarke Dermody, Shane Christie & Gray Cornelius.
The team continues to capture the hearts and minds of fans locally, nationally and beyond, by playing an adventurous brand of rugby.
On-field performance has also been reflected in the numbers of Mako players receiving Super contracts, consistently now at about 20 players per season, and the numbers going on to earn higher representative honours including All Blacks Sevens, Maori All Blacks and All Blacks selection.
Since 2016, nine locally developed players have played Test rugby for New Zealand – Liam Squire (All Black # 1151), Kane Hames (# 1152), David Havili (# 1161), Tim Perry (# 1162), Atunaisa Moli (# 1168), Shannon Frizell (# 1172), Tyrel Lomax (#1180), Will Jordan (#1191), Ethan Blackadder (# 1195), Finlay Christie (# 1196) & Leicester Fainga'anuku (#1200). Sevu Reece (#1182) joined the Tasman Mako in 2020 having been picked for the All Blacks in 2019.
None of these achievements would be possible without a vast array of financial support, from NZ Rugby, our Sponsors, Members and season ticket purchasers, and our community trust fund partners.
After 16 years of existence, the Tasman Rugby Union is successful and innovative, aspiring to be a Top 4 national provincial Union, by any criteria.
Nelson: 03 548 7030
Blenheim: 03 578 4070
Tasman Rugby UnionPO Box 7157, Nelson