THE RIVALRY: WARRIORS V DRAGONS

The Auckland Warriors endured their troubles against the St George Dragons and Illawarra Steelers early in the club’s existence, and that was only exacerbated by the St George Illawarra Dragons merger in 1999 – the Warriors’ success rate against the joint venture is their worst against any club, including an away losing streak that currently stands at 15 years.

Overall record: Played 27 – St George Illawarra won 21, Warriors won 6; St George Illawarra scored 688 points, Warriors scored 427 points.
Biggest wins: St George Illawarra – 54-0 at WIN Stadium, 2000; Warriors – 34-6 at Mt Smart Stadium in 2001 and 44-16 at Mt Smart Stadium in 2007.
Longest winning streaks: St George Illawarra – 11 matches (2008-15); Warriors – 1 match.
Finals: None.
Most appearances: Ben Creagh (St George Illawarra) – 16; Matt Cooper (St George Illawarra) – 14; Ben Hornby (St George Illawarra) – 14; Simon Mannering (Warriors) – 14; Jason Nightingale (St George Illawarra) – 14; Jacob Lillyman (Warriors) – 12; Ben Matulino (Warriors) – 11; Manu Vatuvei (Warriors) – 11.
Most tries: Matt Cooper (St George Illawarra) – 11; Nathan Blacklock (St George Illawarra) – 10; Jason Nightingale (St George Illawarra) – 8; Brett Morris (St George Illawarra) – 5; Mark Gasnier (St George Illawarra) – 4; Simon Mannering (Warriors) – 4; Brent Webb (Warriors) – 4.
Most points: Jamie Soward (St George Illawarra) – 64; Gareth Widdop (St George Illawarra) – 51; Matt Cooper (St George Illawarra) – 44; Nathan Blacklock (St George Illawarra) – 42; Shaun Johnson (Warriors) – 32; Jason Nightingale (St George Illawarra) – 32; Mark Gasnier (St George Illawarra) – 26; Mark Riddell (St George Illawarra) – 26; Amos Roberts (St George Illawarra) – 26.

1995-98 – Steelers, Dragons prove tough opposition for Auckland Warriors

After the euphoria of the Auckland Warriors’ narrow loss to Brisbane in their inaugural premiership match, Illawarra provided the premiership newcomers with a harsh lesson of how tough the week-to-week grind of the competition would be with a 40-28 victory in Wollongong in the club’s first-ever away match. The Warriors would go on to win the next three between the two clubs, but the Steelers scored a 17-14 upset at Mt Smart that derailed the Auckland side’s mid-season revival in 1998.

St George proved a similar speedbump in 1995, with Gorden Tallis running riot at Mt Smart in a 47-14 thumping that ended the Warriors’ six-match winning streak, a result that proved crucial to the club missing out on the finals on for-and-against in its maiden campaign. Similarly demoralising losses followed for the Warriors in 1996 and ’98, before Auckland powered to a 31-14 win – the club’s first against the Red V – midway through the latter season.

1999-2007 – St George Illawarra put Warriors to the sword

The Auckland Warriors won their maiden clash with the merged St George Illawarra Dragons, scoring six tries to three in a 32-18 thrashing of the eventual grand finalists in Round 23 of the 1999 season.

But the Saints exacted some Mount Smart revenge with a 36-8 victory early in 2000, before inflicting the biggest loss of the Warriors’ first 18 seasons.

A week after conceding 50 points to unfancied North Queensland, St George Illawarra routed Auckland 54-0 at WIN Stadium in one of the great turnarounds, with Amos Roberts scoring a premiership record 22 points on first-grade debut. Nathan Blacklock bagged a hat-trick, taking his tally to 10 tries in five games against the Warriors.

The Warriors’ surge to a maiden finals berth in 2001 included an early-season season 34-6 smacking of the Dragons at home, which the Saints reversed via a 38-18 result in Wollongong later that season – including another Blacklock double.

The Warriors grabbed their first (and so far, only) win at Kogarah Oval in 2003, 30-20, but four straight Dragons wins – three of them at WIN Stadium – followed. A 44-16 success in Auckland in 2007, featuring a double from centre Simon Mannering and eight-from-eight from Michael Witt’s boot, would be the Warriors’ last favourable result in the rivalry for nine years.

2008-13 – Warriors’ Wollongong woes continue

The Warriors’ 11-match losing streak against St George Illawarra began fittingly enough, with Matt Cooper and Josh Morris scoring two tries apiece in a 34-6 drubbing in Wollongong late in the 2008 season.

The injury-ravaged Saints scored a courageous 12-11 result at WIN Stadium in 2009, before sweeping to three straight wins in Auckland (2009-11) then notching a hat-trick of victories in Wollongong (2011-13).

The teams produced arguably their finest encounter at WIN Stadium in the penultimate round of 2011. The Warriors led 16-10 at the break, before the hosts ran in a pair unanswered tries to hit the front 24-16. Rookie halfback Shaun Johnson laid on a try for Feleti Mateo to set up a grandstand finish, but the Dragons held on for a nerve-shredding 26-22 win.

It would be the sixth-placed Warriors, though, that went on to reach the grand final five weeks later, while the fifth-placed Saints made a week two exit from the playoffs.

2014-16 – The drought is broken

Aiming to bounce back from a dismal season-opening display against Parramatta, the Warriors’ hoodoo against the joint venture continued courtesy of a 31-12 loss to a Gareth Widdop-inspired Dragons outfit at Eden Park in Round 2 of 2014.

In caretaker-coach Andrew McFadden’s first road trip in charge just five weeks later, the Warriors showed plenty of spirit at Kogarah Oval, but they still went down 20-10 – a loss that preceded a run of seven wins in nine matches for the resurgent side.

But another alternate NZ venue proved a graveyard for the injury-stricken Warriors in their rivalry with the Dragons, who romped to a 36-0 win at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium late in the 2015 campaign.

The Warriors ended the Saints hex in style in 2016, however, despite a midweek incident that saw several of the team’s first-choice players demoted to InTrust Super Premiership duty.

With Toafofoa Sipley making his first-grade debut off the bench and lock John Palavi playing his first NRL game since the loss to the Dragons at Eden Park more than two years earlier, the Warriors carved out a gutsy 26-10 victory. Shaun Johnson racked up 14 points, while fullback David Fusitu’a scooped man of the match honours.

Normal transmission resumed in 2017 as the Warriors saved two of their worst performances of the season for the Saints.

A butter-fingered display underpinned a 26-12 loss at Kogarah in Round 4, while defensive incompetence was the feature of a 30-14 defeat in Hamilton six weeks later – the Dragons’ 13th victory in 14 encounters against the Warriors.

Despite the absence of Shaun Johnson, the Warriors carved out one of the finest victories in the club’s history in Round 7 of 2018, a 20-12 win over the previously undefeated Saints. Issac Luke was on fire, while stand-ins Mason Lino and Anthony Gelling also starred in the upset.

THEY PLAYED FOR BOTH CLUBS

Quentin Pongia: Canterbury (NZ) via West Coast prop Quentin Pongia became a Kiwis Test staple from 1992 and won a premiership with Canberra two years later. The enforcer spent the 1998 NRL season with the Auckland Warriors – playing 14 games – before stints with Sydney Roosters, and French clubs Chaitillon and Villeneuve. A return to Australia was short-lived, making just two appearances for St George Illawarra in 2003, before finishing his career at Wigan.

John Carlaw: Newcastle junior Carlaw earned his first-grade spurs with the short-lived Hunter Mariners, before playing 24 of the Storm’s 27 games in the club’s stunning 1998 debut season. The centre/winger had stints with Balmain and Wests Tigers before a career-best two-season stay with the Warriors, playing in the 2002 grand final amongst 35 appearances for the Auckland side. Carlaw finished his NRL tenure with 15 appearances for St George Illawarra in 2004, reaching the milestone of 150 career games.

Henry Perenara: Auckland-born Perenara debuted for the Warriors a week after his 18th birthday, playing three top-grade games in 2000. He then moved to Melbourne for two seasons, before stints with the Dragons – where he played 16 games in 2003-04 – Eels and Sharks. Perenara has been an NRL referee since 2011.

Michael Witt: Toowoomba product Witt started his NRL career with two-season stints at Parramatta and Manly, before an eventful stay with the Warriors in 2007-08. The five-eighth scored 291 points in 43 games for the club, including 121 goals for the club at a phenomenal 87.6 per cent, while he also scored the unforgettable match-winning try in the ’08 qualifying final upset of the Storm. After a brief flirtation with rugby union in Otago, Witt played four seasons in Super League before making four NRL appearances with St George Illawarra in 2014.

Nathan Fien: Mt Isa-born Fien represented the Queensland Origin side in 2001 during his five seasons with the Cowboys before linking with the Warriors in 2005. The half/hooker played 105 games for the Auckland club and made the first of 20 Test appearances for the Kiwis in 2006. After featuring in the Warriors’ 2007-08 finals campaigns, Fien was released to St George Illawarra midway through ’09. The utility’s five-season, 80-game stay with the joint venture included a premiership ring as part of the Dragons’ 2010 grand final-winning side.

Jeremy Latimore: Ex-Parramatta forward Latimore was a handy contributor in 24 games for the Warriors in 2010-11, before playing 14 games for St George Illawarra in 2012. The likeable front-rower subsequently spent four years at Penrith – playing 75 NRL games – and was snapped up by defending premiers Cronulla for 2017, before rejoining the Dragons this year. Latimore has played all but one game in 2018 in a Saints side laced with rep forwards.

Leeson Ah Mau: Otahuhu Leopards junior Ah Mau made two NRL appearances as a 19-year-old during the Warriors’ 2009 campaign. He was signed by the Cowboys and played a further 33 games in 2010-11, but eventually found his niche at St George Illawarra. Ah Mau has played 137 games for the Dragons – missing just five games in the past five seasons – and has turned out for Samoa in 15 Tests after debuting in 2013. Midway through 2018, however, he signed a deal to return to the Warriors at the end of the year.

Dane Nielsen: Former Queensland Origin centre and Melbourne premiership winner Nielsen played 30 games for the Warriors in 2013-14, but his stint with St George Illawarra in 2015 garnered just two first-grade outings. Nielsen has since spent time at Bradford and South Sydney.

Siliva Havili: A member of the Warriors’ NYC grand final success of 2011 and a Tongan Test debutant two years later, Manurewa Marlins junior Siliva Havili played 14 NRL games for the Warriors in 2014-15. The utility, equally at home at hooker or lock, joined the Dragons and made 10 first-grade appearances in 2016. Not used in first grade in 2017, Havili snared a contract with Canberra after his stellar performances for Tonga at the World Cup.

Sebastine Ikahihifo: Bruising forward Ikahihifo played at lock in the Warriors’ 2010-11 NYC grand final triumphs, before playing 39 first-grade games for the club over the ensuing four seasons. Ikahihifo signed with the Saints for 2016 but the Mangere East junior could not force his way into their NRL line-up.

Russell Packer: Levin Lions junior Packer made his NRL debut for the Warriors at just 18 years of age in 2008 and played 110 games for the club over six seasons. The burly enforcer was prominent in the Warriors’ charge to the 2011 grand final, after which he made two Test appearances for New Zealand. A shift to the Newcastle Knights ahead of the 2014 season was derailed by a jail term for an assault conviction, but a reformed Packer was picked up by St George Illawarra and after two seasons out of the NRL he played 22 of the Dragons’ 24 games in 2016. A Kiwis recall followed in 2017 before he linked with former Warriors coach Ivan Cleary at Wests Tigers in 2018.

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