The Mitre 10 Cup kicked off last weekend with much fanfare and lived up to expectations with seven games of pulsating action.

The Bay of Plenty Steamers received few favours in the first round, drawing Taranaki at home in the Naki heartland at Inglewood.

Taranaki took full advantage of their All Black heroes in Beauden and Jordie Barrett, who were making rare appearances for their province.

While tasting defeat, Sideline Sid's favourite team were competitive throughout the 80 minutes of action and came away with two points, which might prove valuable in the Premiership title race later in the season.

While Bay of Plenty have had mixed fortunes over the 44 years since the NPC kicked-off in 1976, they will be remembered forever in the NPC history as the inaugural winners of the National Provincial Championship.

Unlike the current day, where the Mitre 10 Cup is a well orchestrated machine accompanied by state of the art television coverage and a myriad of spectators decked out in team merchandise, the 1976 NPC stuttered into life.

The Division One competition ran from early May until late September, with many fixtures being derived from the previous traditional games, played between the countries rugby provinces.

The Blue and Gold brigade started their 1976 NPC campaign with a one point loss to Counties away from home.

To the delight of the growing band of Bay of Plenty supporters, that was their only defeat of the brand spanking new rugby competition.

The countries rugby landscape looked very different to today's scene with Marlborough, Southland, Otago, Manawatu and North Auckland securing spots in the top echelon - while Waikato and Taranaki languished in the North Island Division Two competition.

NPC finals weren't introduced until 1992, with Bay of Plenty wining the round-robin shootout with eight wins, one draw and the first up lost to Counties.

Bay of Plenty finished on top of the standings with 17 points, two ahead of Manawatu, with Auckland two further points away in finishing in third place.

During their remarkable NPC campaign, the BOP side defeated Auckland 31-28, got past Canterbury 12-6 and hung on for an 18 all draw with Wellington.

The 1970's was a golden time for Bay of Plenty Rugby, with a near upset of the 1971 Lions at the Tauranga Domain and the first NPC competition crown.

Testament to the quality of the 1970s players, was that seven of the regions twenty-two All Blacks, came between 1971 and 1977.

Alan McNaughton (1971), Graeme Crossman (1974) John Brake, Greg Rowland and Eddie Stokes (all 1977), and Murray Taylor (1977) were home grown, with Grant Batty the only import.

Tauranga Domain has gown full circle, after hosting many NPC fixtures, they were relegated to the wilderness at the start of the Millennium, with the return of afternoon weekend rugby will see them hosting three 2020 Mitre 10 encounters.

Bay of Plenty Steamers 2020 Home Games at the Tauranga Domain

October 24: Bay of Plenty Steamers v Canterbury – 2.05pm kickoff

November 1: Bay of Plenty Steamers v Hawkes Bay – 2.05pm kickoff

November 15: Bay of Plenty Steamers v North Harbour – 2.05pm kickoff



Sideline Sid
Sports correspondent & historian