The trophy presented by Athalinda Dean is a hundred years old. It has the distinction of being the oldest rugby trophy still being competed for in the country.Over 400 gathered at the Toko rugby ground in backblocks Taranaki to celebrate the Dean Cup's centenary.
In 1865, Athalinda Dean was the first white child born in the South Island's Mackenzie country but by the early 1900s Athalinda had found her way to Whangamomona in eastern Taranaki where she was publican and highly respected in the frontier settlement.
Her grandchildren tell of her extravagant tastes and her liking for fine clothes, good horses, caged budgies and Pomeranian dogs. And she never let the limitations of her several husbands get in the way of her own purposes.
Athalinda first intended the Dean Cup, (worth over $3,000 in today's money) to be a cricket trophy but the local paddocks were too rough and so she donated it instead as an annual rugby competition between Toko, Whangamomona, Strathmore and Ohura. Ohura dropped out in 1914 and it's been a 'super three' competion ever since.
Longtime supporters and players alike emphasize that it's not just an annual social game - although the after-match gatherings have become legend and some of the players would take two days to get home. But on the field, the intensity of the games was, and still is, greater than the old inter-provincial rivalry represented by the Ranfurly shield. And it wasn't unknown for referees dispensing too many controversial decisions to be dunked in the river.
But above all, the Dean Cup has become a powerful bond between these isolated settlements as they have been drained of population and services over the last 40 years. Jack Perkins attends the centenary celebrations of the Dean Cup.