Hurricanes returning to Palmerston North

PETER LAMPP
Last updated 12:00 14/12/2012
Hurricanes in Palmerston North
DAVID UNWIN/Fairfax NZ
DONE DEAL: Hurricanes chief executive James Te Puni, left, Manawatu Rugby Union chief executive John Knowles and Palmerston North Mayor Jono Naylor discuss the finer points of the Hurricanes match yesterday.

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The Hurricanes are coming back to Manawatu after all.

After protracted negotiations, they are bringing the Stormers from Cape Town to FMG Stadium.

The match will be held at 7.35pm on Friday, April 26, the day after Anzac Day, with the Hurricanes vowing to come to Palmerston North the day before the match.

It will be the third successive time the Hurricanes have played the Stormers in Palmerston North since 2005. Since then Manawatu has hosted the Highlanders versus the Bulls in 2009, but the Manawatu Rugby Union took a $26,000 hit from that game.

Chief executive John Knowles and his board weren't risking a repeat, and won't be paying a hosting fee for next April's match.

Knowles and Hurricanes chief executive James Te Puni have negotiated a no-risks "pretty foolproof" deal thanks to the Palmerston North City Council pulling right back on its charges. Palmerston North was the last venue to be locked in on the 2013 Super Rugby roster, and a few weeks ago it seemed like the match wasn't going to happen.

But it appears that flexibility with the venue hire clinched it, and with tickets and sponsorship.

If the match rakes in a big profit, the council will also profit; but if the opposite occurs, the hireage charge will be tailored to suit.

Mayor Jono Naylor said it was important that Palmerston North hosted major games.

"You don't get lots of opportunities to see top-quality stuff, apart from the Turbos," he said. "And we've got a significant amount of money invested in the stadium."

A crowd of only 4000 would see the match break even, from a ground capacity of 13,000 to 14,000. That should be a cinch considering the Hurricanes' pre-season games at Mangatainoka in February haul in sellout crowds of 8000.

The Hurricanes had earmarked the Stormers match for a provincial venue. Hawke's Bay weren't interested, and neither were Taranaki, who hosted a game last year and will host an All Blacks test match against France in June, so Palmerston North was the only option left.

Wellington's Westpac Stadium has been booked for the St Kilda-Sydney Swans Aussie Rules match on Anzac Day.

Te Puni wouldn't reveal the other venue options, but it seems likely that Wanganui's Cooks Gardens might have been one, had the organisers been desperate.

"Manawatu was our preference. If we wanted to take a game here, we had to make sure we put the best game we can."

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He said it was "an expensive exercise" to bring games away.

"We make more money staying at Westpac Stadium."

Te Puni didn't know if the Stormers would stay in Palmerston North. South African teams have tended to bunk down in Wellington.

"There is no reason we can't get a great crowd here," Te Puni said. "Our team had a bit of fun last year . . . these young fellows are standing up."

The vexed issue for Manawatu fans has been the absence of Manawatu players in the Hurricanes. Flanker Callum Gibbins has broken the drought by being included in the wider training group, and halfback Papa Wharewera is on the periphery.

Te Puni said the market opened up two years ago. He claimed that the Hurricanes region produced more players than any other and that Manawatu men followed coach Dave Rennie to the Chiefs.

Despite the Chiefs and Highlanders employing all of the Turbos' best men, Knowles stressed that Manawatu was still part of the Hurricanes region,

"And we want to keep that going. The region is important to the Hurricanes and the Hurricanes are important to us. We're not about with trying to connect with teams in other locations."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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