Great un­cles played league

Taupo & Turangi Weekender - - News - Rachel Can­ning

The New Zealand rugby league team is cur­rently tour­ing Eng­land, and Tu¯rangi man Bon­nie Asher tells of a time when his great un­cles Ernie and Opai Asher toured Aus­tralia and Great Bri­tain in 1907 and 1908.

Bon­nie says that his great un­cles were house­hold names at the time and played rep­re­sen­ta­tive rugby and rugby league at a na­tional and in­ter­na­tional level from the 1890s through to the 1920s. Opai was also in the All Blacks.

Both un­cles took part in the 1907-08 New Zealand rugby tour of Aus­tralia and Great Bri­tain. Ini­tially they played rugby union but Bon­nie says that af­ter the team played un­der the rules of the North­ern Union (to­day known as rugby league) they were hooked. The records show that most of the 50 matches played on the tour were un­der the North­ern Union rules.

In 1908 Opai and Ernie or­gan­ised a tour of Aus­tralia for New Zealand Ma¯ori play­ers. They in­tended to play rugby union but New South Wales Rugby League per­suaded the team to switch to league. Bon­nie says that Ernie told the story about how af­ter a brief team meet­ing the team voted to change codes to rugby league. The tour was a great sport­ing suc­cess, but le­gal fights re­duced fi­nances to the point the team played an ex­hi­bi­tion game of rugby to fi­nance their trip home.

At the time the New Zealand Rugby Union was op­posed to the break-away game of rugby league, how­ever league be­came firmly es­tab­lished in New Zealand upon the re­turn of Ernie, Opai and their team­mates.

Bon­nie’s grand­fa­ther John was asked to come and work for the chief of Nga¯ti Tu¯whare­toa and then in the 1930s and 1940s owned the Tokaanu Ho­tel.

At one point the three brothers de­cided to set up a rugby league com­pe­ti­tion in Tokaanu and Bon­nie says that for a short time there were three or four teams play­ing but there wasn’t much in­ter­est so Ernie and Opai went back to Auck­land.

Af­ter their play­ing days were over, Opai be­came the care­taker at Car­law Park in Par­nell, Auck­land.

Ernie be­came a hair­dresser, a rugby league coach, se­lec­tor and ad­min­is­tra­tor, and was also a noted weightlifter.

Bon­nie says that he met his fa­mous un­cle Ernie while play­ing rugby league in Auck­land. Bon­nie played for Manukau and then they were al­ways bump­ing into each other.

“But he wouldn’t se­lect me [to play for Auck­land or New Zealand]. He said ‘You coun­try chil­dren are too rough.”

Bon­nie was a prison of­fi­cer at Ton­gariro Prison for 42 years, and re­tired in 2015 at the age of 78.

Bon­nie Asher, 81, from Korohe, near Tu¯rangi, re­lates sto­ries about his rugby league play­ing great-un­cles Opai and Ernie Asher.

Photo / Sup­plied

Bon­nie Asher’s great un­cles Opai (top) and Ernie Asher pic­tured in the of­fi­cial dress of the 1907-1908 New Zealand rugby tour of Aus­tralia and Great Bri­tain.

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