THE RIVALRY: WARRIORS V KNIGHTS

 

The Warriors were largely at the mercy of the mercurial Andrew Johns during the first decade of their rivalry with Knights, but they have turned the tables on the Novacastrians over the past 11 seasons to take a narrow overall lead.

Overall record: Played 38 – Warriors won 19, Newcastle won 18, draws 1; Warriors scored 891 points, Newcastle scored 865 points.
Biggest wins: Warriors – 52-10 at Mt Smart Stadium, 2007; Newcastle – 48-6 at Marathon Stadium, 1995.
Longest winning streaks: Warriors – 5 matches (2009-11); Newcastle – 4 matches (twice – 1995-98 and 2000-02).
Finals: None
Most appearances: Simon Mannering (Warriors) – 22; Manu Vatuvei (Warriors) – 19; Danny Buderus (Newcastle) – 17; Kurt Gidley (Newcastle) – 17; Steve Simpson (Newcastle) – 16; Jacob Lillyman (Warriors) – 15; Ben Matulino (Warriors) – 15; Jarrod Mullen (Newcastle) – 15; Matt Gidley (Newcastle) – 14; Andrew Johns (Newcastle) – 14; Stacey Jones (Warriors) – 14.
Most tries: Manu Vatuvei (Warriors) – 19; Adam MacDougall (Newcastle) – 13; David Fusitu’a (Warriors) – 10; Andrew Johns (Newcastle) – 9; James McManus (Newcastle) – 8; Timana Tahu (Newcastle) – 8; Clinton Toopi (Warriors) – 8.
Most points: Andrew Johns (Newcastle) – 155; Kurt Gidley (Newcastle) – 76; Manu Vatuvei (Warriors) – 76; Shaun Johnson (Warriors) – 66; Adam MacDougall (Newcastle) – 52; James Maloney (Warriors) – 46.

1995-2004 – Warriors’ harsh lessons in the school of ‘Joey’

The teething problems the fledgling Auckland Warriors had with making the trek across the Tasman every fortnight were never better exemplified than during their maiden visit to Newcastle in 1995. A baying 22,136-strong Marathon Stadium crowd watched the Knights romp to a 48-6 win in the Round 9 clash, after leading 18-0 at the break.

Centre Nathan Barnes scored a hat-trick, while sophomore halfback Andrew Johns booted nine goals as Newcastle racked up a club record ninth straight win. Fullback Phil Blake scored the Warriors’ only try, his 11th in nine games. It was third time in four away games the Warriors had conceded 40 points, while the Hunter humiliation remained the Warriors’ biggest loss until 2000.

A John Kirwan double wasn’t enough to thwart the Knights on their initial voyage to Auckland, with winger Keith Beauchamp’s two tries helping the visitors to a 22-18 win. The clubs were on opposite sides of the Super League-ARL divide in 1997, but when they reunited under the NRL banner in 1998, the Knights powered to a 33-4 home victory in Round 2 that saw each of the back-five cross for a try.

The teams met again just five weeks later at Mt Smart, but the Knights’ Johns brothers, Andrew and Matthew, orchestrated a 38-14 success over a Warriors side that had eight players backing up from the Kiwis’ Anzac Test triumph just two days earlier.

Round 25, 1999 – Brilliant Warriors finish season with a flourish
After conceding 141 points and scoring just 42 in their first four clashes with Newcastle, the Auckland Warriors flipped the script on the finals-bound Knights with a 42-0 shut-out on a wet evening at Mt Smart. The Warriors were well out of top-eight contention, but the Mark Graham-coached side produced one of the best wins in the club’s five-season history to run in seven tries and keep their own line intact. Five-eighth John Simon was magnificent, as were fellow Aussie expats, hooker Robert Mears and lock Jason Death, while fullback Matthew Ridge scored 18 points in what ultimately proved to be his last game in Auckland. The result marked the first time the Warriors had held an opponent scoreless.

Despite the resounding breakthrough, Newcastle would resume control of the rivalry for another five seasons. The club drew 18-all at Mt Smart early in 2000 after Andrew Johns converted a last-minute Bill Peden try, while the Knights won seven of the next eight encounters.

Widely regarded as the world’s best player, Johns toyed with the Warriors at home in 2001, setting a new club record with 29 points from three tries, eight goals and a field goal in a 45-24 win for the eventual NRL premiers. Johns, in conjunction with another rep star, kept the points flowing at the Warriors’ expense later that season.

Round 20, 2001 – ‘Mad Dog’ stings Warriors in high-scoring thriller
The Warriors confirmed their status as a genuine finals contender, but the high-flying Knights maintained their dominant record over the Auckland-based club in an entertaining try-fest at Mt Smart Stadium. The lead changed hands five times in a 37-30 result, with Andrew Johns contributing 17 points and powerhouse winger Adam MacDougall scoring a club-record-equalling four tries. ‘Mad Dog’ bagged a first-half hat-trick, before crossing for the match-sealing try in the final minute of an absorbing clash.

The Warriors took advantage of an Origin-depleted Knights side to chalk up their first win in five visits to Newcastle midway through 2002, with Clinton Toopi scoring a double in a 34-12 win. But the Knights resumed control of the rivalry again by winning three straight games in 2003-04, taking their record to 11 wins and a draw in 14 games against the Warriors.

 

2005-11 – Warriors turn the tables on Knights

Since 2005, the Warriors have won 17 of 24 encounters between the clubs – including 11 of 13 at Mt Smart Stadium.

Round 6, 2005 – A comeback for the ages
In blazing sunshine at Newcastle’s EngergyAustralia Stadium, the Knights racked up an imposing 20-0 lead over the New Zealand Warriors and appeared on course for a convincing win. The visitors slowly clawed their way back, however, and the Warriors’ momentum became unstoppable when Newcastle captain Andrew Johns left the field with a cracked jaw 15 minutes from fulltime. The score was 26-16 at the time, but Johns’ great rival Stacey Jones stepped into overdrive to conjure three tries for the Warriors. The final touchdown, to powerhouse winger Francis Meli, came in the final minute after a movement that originated deep inside Warriors territory. The 30-26 escape act was fondly remembered by Warriors fans: highlights of the match were regularly shown as filler between programmes on Sky Sports for years to come.

Making just his eighth NRL appearance in that astounding comeback – which remains the biggest in the Warriors’ history – winger Manu Vatuvei grabbed his first career double in a performance that gave the Knights a taste of what was to come. ‘The Beast’ scored 19 tries in 19 appearances against Newcastle – the most he has scored against any club – including the Warriors’ only try in a 16-4 loss at home later in 2005.

Despite finishing outside the finals picture while Newcastle reached the top-four, the Warriors won both games between the clubs in 2006, a feat that marked the Warriors’ first back-to-back successes against the Knights.

They shared the spoils in 2007, but the Warriors enjoyed bragging rights with a 52-10 pummelling late in the regular season on their way to just the second top-four finish in their history, with Wade McKinnon, Jerome Ropati and Grant Rovelli scoring doubles, and Michael Witt slotting eight goals.

The sides again won one game apiece in 2008, but the Warriors edged the Knights for eighth spot at the end of the season; after the Knights went down to the Broncos in a Friday night clash in Round 26, the Warriors leapfrogged them with a victory over Parramatta.

The Warriors’ 13-0 shutout – after protecting a 6-0 lead for three-quarters of the match – midway through 2009 kicked off a five-match winning streak against the Knights, with Vatuvei scoring a total of five tries in two 2010 encounters. With their 25-16 away victory in 2011, the Warriors achieved consecutive wins in Newcastle for the first time.

 

2012-15 – Knights play spoiler role

Clashes between the Warriors and Knights over the ensuing four seasons invoke painful memories for fans of the former.

Round 20, 2012 – Knights make sleepy Warriors pay
The Warriors’ 2012 campaign began to unravel when they inexplicably let an 18-point lead slip against unfancied Newcastle at Mt Smart. The hosts led 18-0 in even time with Shaun Johnson and Feleti Mateo starting the match on fire, but Knights wingers Akuila Uate and Kevin Naiqama trimmed the deficit to just seven points by halftime. Uate bombed a try just after the break when he dropped the ball over the line, but long-range tries to Timana Tahu and Dane Gagai sealed a gut-wrenching 24-19 defeat for the home side. A week later the Warriors became the first team in history to give up 18-point leads in consecutive games when they repeated the dose against Manly, while they extended their losing streak to eight matches by the end of the season to finish well outside finals reckoning.

The Warriors won their sole encounter with Newcastle in 2013, while Simon Mannering marked his 200th game for the club – and 100th as captain – with a double in a 38-12 romp over the Knights midway through the following season.

But a Round 23 loss at Hunter Stadium would ultimately prove pivotal to the Warriors missing the 2014 finals.

The Knights prevailed 28-22 in a wildly fluctuating game that saw the four wingers score eight of the 10 tries – and produce some of the most gravity-defying finishes of the season. Vatuvei and Warriors rookie David Fusitu’a scored doubles, while 18-year-old Knights flyer Sione Mata’utia nabbed a sensational hat-trick and older brother Chanel also dotted down. Chad Townsend’s one-from-five kicking display was crucial after both sides posted five tries. The Warriors went on to miss the finals on for-and-against.

The Warriors endured more misery on the road courtesy of a disappointing 24-14 loss to Newcastle in the opening round of the 2015 season as the Knights chalked up back-to-back wins in the rivalry for the first time since 2004.

 

2015-16 – Warriors take advantage of Knights’ decline

The Warriors ended the Knights’ two-game winning streak with a patchy 24-20 result against the eventual wooden spooners at Mt Smart. For the second time in three games between the clubs, all four wingers crossed for tries; on this occasion it was Vatuvei, Jonathan Wright (Warriors), James McManus and Uate (Knights), with the latter scoring two touchdowns.

Newcastle managed just one win in a trying 2016 campaign, and the Warriors took full toll by racking up 90 points in two games against the Knights. After losing their first three games of the season, the Warriors powered to a Solomone Kata-inspired 40-18 win on Easter Monday.

Round 14, 2016 – Flying Fusitu’a carves up hosts
The Warriors’ mid-season revival began to gather momentum at the expense of the hapless Newcastle Knights, inflicting a 50-14 defeat on the last-placed side at Hunter Stadium. The visitors led just 16-12 at the half-hour mark, but put on the afterburners thereafter to finish nine-tries-to-two winners. David Fusitu’a scored four tries – the seventh Warrior to achieve the feat, and just one short of Francis Meli’s club record – while young prop Albert Vete achieved a career milestone with the first try-double of his NRL career.

The Warriors arrested a seven-year losing streak in Round 1 clashes by holding off Newcastle 26-22 at home – Fusitu’a again starring with a hat-trick. But the Knights, on their way to their third straight wooden spoon, turned the tables with a convincing 26-10 late-season win over Stephen Kearney’s slumping Warriors.

INDIVIDUAL RIVALRIES

Stacey Jones v Andrew Johns: Jones was named halfback in New Zealand’s Team of the Century in 2007, while Johns received the same honour when Australia announced their Team of the Century a year later – and the pair waged many memorable duels. They both burst onto the premiership scene in the mid-1990s and were regular opponents at club and Test level, though Johns was frequently selected at hooker for the Kangaroos. In matches they directly opposed each at halfback, Johns won 11 games to four, but Jones managed two victories with the Kiwis in the five Tests the modern greats both wore the No.7. A good-natured rivalry with plenty of respect on both sides, Johns claimed his record third Dally M Medal in 2002 but Jones claimed the Newcastle linchpin’s Golden Boot status.

Manu Vatuvei v Akuila Uate: While Vatuvei’s record against the Knights (19 tries in 19 games) is his best against any club, Uate’s strike-rate against the Warriors (five tries in nine games) is among his worst returns. The crowd-pleasing wingers are the only players to score over 100 tries for their respective clubs, and they certainly made life difficult for one another defensively in nine encounters, of which ‘The Beast’ finished on the winning side seven times.

THEY PLAYED FOR BOTH CLUBS

Tea Ropati: A versatile Auckland back from a prolific rugby league family, Ropati was one of several New Zealand recruits for the Newcastle Knights’ foundation 1988 campaign. He only played two first-grade games for the club, however, before becoming a highly-regarded star on the English club scene with St Helens and making his Kiwis Test debut in 1992. A handy five-eighth who was predominantly used at centre by the fledgling Auckland Warriors, Ropati scored a try off the bench in the club’s maiden premiership match against Brisbane and crossed for 12 tries on his way to winning the Warriors’ inaugural Player of the Year award in 1995. He stayed until 1998, playing the last of 72 games for the Warriors just shy of his 33rd birthday.

John Carlaw: Central Coast product Carlaw never played first grade for the Knights, but he did feature alongside the likes of Brett Kimmorley in the club’s 1995 reserve grade-winning side before debuting for the short-lived Hunter Mariners two years later. After stints with Melbourne, Balmain and Wests Tigers, the centre/winger played arguably the best football of his career in Auckland in 2002-03, playing 35 games and scoring the late match-winner in the 2002 preliminary final that propelled the Warriors into their maiden grand final. The journeyman’s professional career wound up at St George Illawarra in 2004.

Jason Temu: Auckland-born Marist Saints junior Temu arrived at Newcastle via Oldham and Hull FC, playing three first-grade games for the Knights in 1999-2000. After representing Cook Islands at the 2000 World Cup, the rugged prop returned home to link with the Warriors and made four appearances in their watershed ’01 campaign.

Cooper Vuna: The Warriors’ youngest-ever player at 17 years and 47 days, Vuna played five first-grade games for the club from 2004-06, but his career took off after joining Newcastle midway through ’07. The wing powerhouse scored 35 tries in 54 games from 2007-10, before being lured to rugby union by the Melbourne Rebels. The former Tonga rugby league rep played two Tests for the Wallabies in 2012, and following stints in Japan and England, became a Tongan dual international in 2016. 

Jesse Royal: Hamilton-born Royal was a late-blooming prop who played for the Central Falcons in the Bartercard Cup and captained the NZ Residents’ tour of Great Britain in 2003, before arriving in Newcastle via Penrith and making his NRL debut for the Knights in 2007. After 29 appearances for the club, he returned to New Zealand and played 36 games for the Warriors in 2009-10 

Matt Jobson: South Newcastle junior Jobson was blooded off the bench four times for the powerful Knights in 2001-02, before enjoying a breakout 2003 campaign that garnered 20 appearances in the top flight. The back-rower attracted the interest of the Warriors, but he received just two first-grade chances in 2004 and finished up his NRL career with Wests Tigers the following season. 

Evarn Tuimavave: A robust and skilful front-rower, Tuimavave was just 18 when he debuted off the bench during the Warriors’ 2002 grand final season. He was an intermittent member of the first-grade side in subsequent campaigns, but forged a permanent spot from 2006-08, missing just four games. Tuimavave played his sole Test for New Zealand at the 2008 World Cup, but after a disappointing follow-up season, he joined the Knights and played 33 games for the club from 2010-12. The Marist and Richmond junior played for Super League club Hull KR in 2013.

Todd Lowrie: Scone-born Lowrie started out at Newcastle, playing 57 games for the Knights from 2003-06, before turning out in 42 games for Parramatta from 2007-09. After playing in the Eels’ loss to the Storm in the ’09 grand final, the back-rower joined Melbourne and won a premiership in 2012. He played 21 games for the Warriors in 2013, before passing the 200-game mark during a final campaign with the Broncos in 2014.

Carlos Tuimavave: Evarn’s cousin, versatile back Carlos, was a star of the Warriors’ 2010-11 NYC premiership triumphs at five-eighth, and broke through for an NRL debut late in the 2012 campaign. Tuimavave was tried at fullback and centre for the Warriors but was unable to forge a regular spot, and the Samoa international was snapped up by the Knights in 2015, where he played five games in the No.6 jumper. The 25-year-old Mount Wellington junior currently plays for Super League powerhouse Hull FC.

Siuatonga Likiliki: Another graduate of the Warriors’ NYC system, Likiliki was just 18 when he played in the centres against eventual grand finalists Parramatta in 2009. It would be his only first-grade appearance for the club, however, and after playing in the Warriors’ maiden Under-20s grand final win in 2010, he joined the Knights and featured in two NRL games in 2011. The Tongan international was named in the 2012 NSW Cup Team of the Year while playing for the Knights, and was signed by the Gold Coast Titans in 2014 but could not force his way back into first grade, joining the Burleigh Bears at the end of the year.

Jacob Lillyman: No-frills prop Lillyman made his NRL debut for the Cowboys in 2003 and broke into the Queensland Origin side in ’06 after just 19 first grade appearances. After 62 games for the Cowboys, Lillyman joined the Warriors in 2009 and ended a three-year Origin absence in 2011 – the season he played an integral role in the clubs’ charge to the grand final. The super-reliable bookend finished up with 188 games for the Warriors (sixth in club history, while his last game for the Warriors was also his 250th in the NRL) and extended his Origin tally to 14 matches before joining Newcastle for the 2018 season. Lillyman has made 15 top-grade appearances for the Knights so far and announced this week that he will be retiring at the end of the season.

 

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