Rugby first appeared in our region in 1878 when clubs were set up in Feilding and Palmerston North. As new clubs continued to form in the region in the 1880s, the Manawatū Rugby Union was formed in 1886 to administor the game.

Manawatū’s first representative fixture was played against a Wanganui XV in July 1886 with the score ending 0-0. Apart from 1900 and 1901 when the union went into recess and the the World War I affected seasons of 1915 and 1916, a Manawatū team has played every year since.

In 1925 Horowhenua RFU voted to merge with Manawatū, the combined team becoming known as Manawhenua. The side had early success winning the Ranfurly Shield 18-16 against Wairarapa. But by 1933, the two provinces opted to go their own separate ways.

Manawatū’s undoutbed golden period came in the mid-1970s and early 1980s. Under the coaching of Graham Hamer, they won the Ranfurly Shield in 1976 beating Auckland 12-10. They would defend the Shield 13 times before losing in controversial fashion 12-10 to North Auckland in 1978. The core of that squad went on to win the NPC Division 1 title in 1980.

In 1980, Palmerston North played host to the first women’s provincial game in New Zealand between Manawatū and Hawke's Bay. Manawatū won that match 11-0. The match was the starting point of the union's women's representative programme which gathered momentum in the 1990s.

In 1996 entered a partnership with Hawke’s Bay to play as the Central Vikings, but the joint venure would last just two years before the unions reverted to playing individually.

Manawatū has contributed 41 All Blacks including New Zealand's most capped halfback, Aaron Smith along with fellow recent All Blacks Aaron Cruden, Ngani Laumape and Jackson Hemopo. Perhaps the province's most famous All Black is fullback Christian Cullen. During the height of Manawatū’s golden years, 17 players graduated to the black jersey. Including the likes of legends Sam Strahan, Gary Knight, Doug Rollerson, Ken Granger, Mark Donaldson, Mark Shaw and Frank Oliver

There have been 10 Black Ferns from the region including legandary Black Ferns skipper Farah Palmer, tryscoring star Selica Winiata and long-time New Zealand Sevens captain Sarah Hirini.