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6 June 2022
josh baird v west melton
Angela Jones Photography

Rolleston Rugby Club may be young in years, but it’s burgeoning with numbers.

Just 20 minutes south-west of Christchurch, on the road to Ashburton, lies the town of Rolleston, population 25,000. This is no tiny hamlet.

The rugby club is only into its eighth season of senior footy but can count no less than 19 junior and eight intermediate teams, plus division one and two senior sides and a Golden Oldies outfit that plays maybe twice a month on Sundays. That makes it the biggest club in the Ellesmere sub-union and third largest in all Canterbury. Not bad going at all.

The Rolleston club made the wider rugby public consciousness last year when, with the help of Sky’s Grassroots Rugby show, it was gifted an Isuzu D-Max for the club’s use. That ute is now being sign-written and will carry the Rolleston logo as well as some of the seniors and their gear on Saturdays.

Pulling the whole operation together is a proactive committee led by President Nicky Ruki. It’s a family affair. Nicky’s husband Wilson plays for the Rolly Rebels Golden Oldies team and coaches the Under 16s. Sons Liam (wing) and Jayden (halfback) run out for the division one team, Damon is at St Thomas’ College but will play on occasion for the Under 16s, while daughter Mikayla will play for the girls’ Under 11s this season, the first all-girls junior team that the club has fielded. Nicky herself helps run the bar and kitchen, among her myriad presidential duties. This is no figurehead. She is very much hands-on.

The Rukis live just across the road from the club’s Foster Park base. “I’m always there. It’s my second home. Even my kids tell me that I should take my bed down there and live there!” says the President. Rolleston itself has grown like the rugby club in the 21 years Ruki has lived there. “It used to take me two seconds to get from A to B. Now it takes about 20 minutes. It has grown, but many of the areas in Ellesmere, like Prebbleton and Lincoln, have too, and are growing all the time.

It’s almost like Christchurch will be out in Rolleston soon,” adds Ruki.

Softball is affiliated to the rugby club, while a touch module of over 100 teams runs on Tuesday nights over summer. The club encourages its rugby teams to stick together in touch teams. While there is no women’s team, as such, the introduction of all-girls junior rugby has seen Rolleston jump in with its Under 11s. They will play 10-a-side this season.

“We hope to grow them to become our senior women’s team in the next few years,” says Ruki. Then there are the Golden Oldies, the Rolly Rebels. “They have lots of fun and quite a big following,” says Ruki.

The juniors are the lifeblood of the club, as they are for many clubs wanting to offer a community service.

The juniors are the lifeblood of the club, as they are for many clubs wanting to offer a community service. Players then head off to secondary school, play rugby there, and the hope is they return to their clubs to join the senior ranks.

“As a senior club, we are still quite junior. With the number of junior teams we have, it goes to show how well are doing in that junior space,” Ruki says. The seniors play in the Ellesmere and combined North Canterbury competitions. Their nearest neighbours are the likes of Southbridge, Prebbleton, Springston, Hornby, Darfield, West Melton and Burnham/Dunsandel/Irwell.

Most of the players hail from Rolleston but the club does source a few from Christchurch. “We find players will go to where their friends are playing. We do have a few younger boys, 18- or 19-year-olds, playing for the division one side,” says Ruki.

“They were part of the Rolleston club when they were little. They played for school and then came back. This is what we are trying to encourage more of.” Come to Foster Park on Saturday and you will find a welcoming atmosphere and environment.

“We pride ourselves on making the whole atmosphere to be about family and whānau. We want to encourage the kids to come down and watch the seniors, watch their dads play. Then we have a prizegiving and we like to encourage the seniors to hand out the awards to the juniors.”

crowd at foster park
The packed Foster Park clubrooms indicate a strong club spirit.

The only issue is that the Foster Park clubrooms can get pretty packed out on Saturday nights. They don’t want to be kicking people out who want to be there.

It’s very social – karaoke nights and quiz nights are on the programme. Active on social media, the club also publishes a quarterly Black and Gold Bulletin, put together by club secretary/photographer Angela Jones and featuring updates by Ruki.

Records for the division one side are not hard to keep, with only seven years to look back on, so the club likes to acknowledge milestones. Last month, for instance, fullback Tyson MacDonald brought up 50 games for the prems, while prop Josh Baird raised the ton, the first Rolleston man to do so. Reason enough to celebrate.

A perusal of the squad list for match[1]days reveals a few exotic names – Argentine, to be precise. They are all local Rolleston boys. Maybe they’ll prevail upon Crusaders and Pumas loosie Pablo Matera to make an appearance at the club. In the meantime, Ruki and her helpers will continue to serve the Rolleston community and keep the black and golds up in lights.

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