The Auckland Warriors and Canberra Raiders clashed before even taking the field against one another, but ultimately went on to forge a fascinating and fluctuating rivalry marked by semi-final classics, golden point thrillers and home-ground hoodoos.
Overall record: Played 39 – Canberra won 21, Warriors won 18; Canberra 882 points, Warriors 855 points.
Biggest wins: Canberra – 56-12 at Canberra Stadium, 2000; Warriors – 54-12 at Mt Smart Stadium, 2014.
Longest winning streaks: Warriors – 5 matches (2013-15); Canberra – 4 matches (twice – 1999-2001 and 2016-17).
Finals: Played 2 – Warriors won 2.
Most appearances: Stacey Jones (Warriors) – 20; Ruben Wiki (Canberra and Warriors) – 18; Simon Mannering (Warriors) – 17; Jarrod Croker (Canberra) – 17; Simon Woolford (Canberra) – 16; Logan Swann (Warriors) – 15.
Most Tries: Manu Vatuvei (Warriors) – 17; Jarrod Croker (Canberra) – 17; Laurie Daley (Canberra) – 8; Shaun Johnson (Warriors) – 7; Mark McLinden (Canberra) – 7.
Most Points: Jarrod Croker (Canberra) – 158; Shaun Johnson (Warriors) – 96; Manu Vatuvei (Warriors) – 68; Clinton Schifcofske (Canberra) – 54.
1995-2000 – Contract wrangles ensure spicy beginning to rivalry
Aggressively pursuing quality Australian-based Kiwi players for their 1995 premiership entry immediately put the Auckland Warriors at odds with Winfield Cup powerhouse Canberra. Northcote winger Sean Hoppe rocketed to New Zealand Test status after joining the Raiders in 1992, but was jettisoned by the club at the end of the following season when he agreed to terms with the fledgling Warriors.
Hoppe instead spent the bridging 1994 season at Norths. But tension between the clubs stepped up a gear when another Auckland product, powerful young centre Ruben Wiki, reneged on his deal with the Warriors to remain in the Australian capital. Wiki’s first grade career was in its infancy when he signed the Warriors contract, but by the end of 1994 he had won a grand final as a key member of the Canberra side and was adamant about remaining with the club. The long-running dispute appeared set to sideline Wiki for the ’95 season, but the Warriors eventually relented. Ironically, Wiki joined the Warriors a decade later after cementing a legacy as one of the Raiders’ finest servants.
The Warriors’ first-ever Sydney foray came against the Raiders – a 22-4 win in their 1995 World Sevens opener.
Hoppe scored the Warriors’ only try of their hard-fought maiden premiership encounter against Canberra in Auckland in the penultimate round of 1995, but a pair of Laurie Daley four-pointers laid the platform for a 15-8 result in favour of the defending champs. Auckland was greeted by a Ken Nagas hat-trick and a 30-6 drubbing in its first venture to Canberra – an all-too-familiar outcome for travelling Warriors sides in subsequent seasons.
A 31-24 upset during the 1997 Super League season remained the Warriors’ only victory at Canberra Stadium until 2014.
Despite generally disastrous campaigns overall, Auckland managed wins over the Raiders at Ericsson Stadium in 1998-99. A momentous 32-30 victory in the latter season was overshadowed by an ugly incident in which Warriors fullback Matthew Ridge raked the face of fellow Kiwi Lesley Vainikolo, resulting in an eight-week suspension and Ridge losing the captaincy.
Ensuing road trips to Canberra garnered frightful beatings, 46-22 (1999) and 56-12 (2000). Barnstorming winger Vainikolo scored two tries for Canberra in each thrashing, compounding the Warriors’ woes – the club had earlier let the Mangere East junior slip through its recruitment net.
2001-03 – Burgeoning Warriors bounce Raiders from back-to-back finals
The Warriors gained brief respite in Canberra in 2001 via a 22-10 win at Manuka Oval, a venue traditionally used for cricket and Australian Rules (a scheduling clash with the ACT Brumbies had forced the Raiders to relocate the game). Reborn under the New Zealand Warriors banner, they qualified for their first finals series that year and claimed the minor premiership in 2002, before disposing of the eighth-placed Raiders in the Auckland-hosted qualifying final.
Qualifying final, 2002 – Warriors cruise to victory in historic finals clash
The maiden finals match in premiership history to be played outside Australia also brought the Warriors’ first-ever post-season win on a history-making afternoon at Mt Smart Stadium, the Warriors taking an express passage to the preliminary final via a 36-20 defeat of Canberra. Holding a tenuous 14-10 halftime advantage, the home side proved too strong in the second stanza. Stacey Jones was the star of the six-tries-to-four result, scoring a try, laying on two more and having a hand in another pair of four-pointers.
The clubs clashed twice in the space of a month during the 2003 regular season – Canberra prevailing 18-10 after taking a home game to Wellington, and the Warriors chalking up a 26-18 win at Mt Smart – before staging a classic semi-final in Sydney after the Raiders secured a top-four finish and the Warriors rallied to finish sixth.
Semi-final, 2003 – Jones field goal sinks Raiders in thriller
A bumper crowd of 31,616 (boosted by a 10,000-ticket giveaway promotion by Warriors boss Eric Watson) descended on the Sydney Football Stadium for a semi-final featuring two out-of-town teams, and the throng was treated to a gripping spectacle. Canberra – first-week losers to Melbourne at home – raced to a 10-0 lead, but the Warriors, who had shocked the third-placed Bulldogs with a 48-22 blitz seven days prior, drew level by halftime through tries to Logan Swann and Clinton Toopi. A trademark aerial try to winger Henry Fa’afili gave the Warriors their first lead after the break, before Raiders prop Luke Davico charged over to set up a 16-all impasse with 23 minutes remaining. The nerve-jangling final quarter reached its pivotal moment in the 75th minute, when Canberra centre Jason Bulgarelli fumbled a Mark McLinden grubber which had sit up perfectly for him with the try-line beckoning. The Warriors worked the ball downfield from the changeover and mercurial halfback Stacey Jones calmly potted the match-winning one-pointer with three minutes remaining, leaving a shattered Bulgarelli and the Raiders to lament a gilt-edged opportunity that had fallen by the wayside. The Warriors were eliminated by eventual premiers Penrith the following weekend, while Canberra had to wait another 13 years for a preliminary final appearance.
2004-14 – Capital curse continues
The Warriors and Canberra became recognised as two of the most unpredictable outfits in the NRL – failing when spruiked as finals hopefuls by the pundits, and surging into the top eight with late-season charges after being tipped as also-rans. But matches between the teams overwhelming favoured the home side.
The Raiders broke a nine-year, six-match drought in Auckland with a 23-16 victory in 2010. The Warriors’ Canberra Stadium hoodoo, meanwhile, stretched to nine matches – they endured an incredible 17-year wait between wins at the venue.
Round 20, 2004 – Schifcofske pilots Canberra to extraordinary golden point win
Canberra fullback Clinton Schifcofske exacted partial revenge for the Raiders’ heart-breaking finals loss to the Warriors the previous season by landing field goals either side of the 80-minute mark. The Warriors had built a 28-18 lead midway through the second half at Canberra Stadium, but Raiders five-eighth Matt Gafa completed a hat-trick to level the scores. A recurring nightmare loomed for Canberra when Stacey Jones landed a 78th-minute field goal, before the cool-headed Schifcofske sent the contest into extra-time with his own one-pointer. Schifcofske snatched a vital victory for the precariously placed Raiders via a wobbly field goal just 90 seconds into the added period.
Canberra thumped the Warriors at home (32-12) and away (42-22) on its way to the 2012 finals, while injury-prone playmaker Terry Campese – making his first appearance in almost a year – inspired the Raiders to a 20-16 comeback success after the Warriors imploded in the second half of an early-season 2013 encounter in the capital. The Warriors halted the three-match losing run against the Raiders in emphatic style, however, racking up a 50-16 scoreline in the death throes of 2013.
Round 25, 2013 – Rampant Warriors feast on embattled Raiders
The Warriors and Raiders approached their late-season encounter at Mt Smart as mathematical finals chances, but Canberra’s recent off-field ructions – including the sacking of coach David Furner and troubled three-quarter star Blake Ferguson going AWOL – rendered it a particularly arduous road trip. The Raiders jumped to a 12-6 lead after 23 minutes against the run of play thanks to a rapid double to points-hungry centre Jarrod Croker. The momentum swung in a pulsating nine-minute burst, however, as giant winger Manu Vatuvei ran in a devastating hat-trick to send the Warriors to the sheds as 20-12 leaders. The consecutive tryscoring continued after the break, with quicksilver Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson, who finished with 26 points, bagging a brilliant treble in the space of just six minutes – later confirmed as a world record. The home side added two more outstanding tries to reach the half-century mark in a memorable afternoon for the Auckland faithful, while Croker completed a consolation hat-trick in the latter stages.
The Warriors obliterated the Raiders in twin maulings in 2014. Johnson scored another 26 points in a 54-12 drubbing at Mt Smart in Round 9 as the halfback and Manu Vatuvei picked up two tries apiece.
Despite the absence of linchpin Johnson for their Canberra road trip in Round 21, the Warriors posted 10 tries in a 54-18 pounding, with Vatuvei scoring another hat-trick – taking his tally to 14 tries in just 11 games against the Raiders. The Warriors’ Canberra Stadium curse had been exorcised in emphatic fashion.
2015-18 – Raiders regain favour
The Warriors extended their fruitful run to a record five-match winning streak over the Raiders with a hard-fought 18-6 win in Canberra and a 30-8 romp featuring a Tuimoala Lolohea double at home.
The Green Machine ended the drought in 2016, however, with Jarrod Cronker (18 points) again having a field day in a 38-12 win in a historic clash at New Plymouth’s Yarrow Stadium. The clubs turned on an extraordinary encounter at GIO Stadium later that season.
Round 20, 2016 – Warriors’ comeback falls short in golden point
High-flying Canberra seemed certain to chalk up an emphatic victory over the visiting Warriors after surging to a 22-4 lead with just over 10 minutes of their Round 20 clash remaining. But the Warriors set up a grandstand finish when five-eighth Thomas Leuluai slipped over for two tries in less than three minutes. A sensational dive for the corner saw David Fusitu’a trim the gap to just two points, and Issac Luke stepped up to land the levelling conversion as the siren sounded. The miraculous revival came unstuck, however, when Raiders captain Jarrod Croker crossed for his third try just a minute into golden point.
The Raiders grinded out a tough 20-8 win over the Warriors early in 2017, while rookie winger Nick Cotric starred with a try-double and Croker racked up 16 points in a 36-16 romp in Auckland in the latter rounds – a record-equalling fourth straight victory for the Green Machine over the Warriors.
Meanwhile, their was frantic fringe-player movement between the clubs in 2017. Warriors utility Erin Clark headed to Canberra midway through 2017, while Raiders fullback Zac Santo made a mid-season switch to Auckland. Out-of-favour Warriors prop Charlie Gubb signed with Canberra in the off-season and was soon joined at the club in early-2018 by rising half Ata Hingano.
The Warriors snapped their four-game losing run against the Raiders in astonishing fashion, with two late Shaun Johnson field goals giving them a nerve-shredding 20-19 win in Canberra and a 3-0 start to the 2018 season.
THEY PLAYED FOR BOTH CLUBS
Sean Hoppe: A wing sensation after being snapped up by the Raiders in 1992, Hoppe scored 22 tries in 39 games and quickly cemented a Test spot on the Kiwis’ flank. But after signing on for the Warriors’ maiden season, he was dumped by the Raiders and forced to spend 1994 with Norths, where he enjoyed a fine season before returning to Auckland. Hoppe scored 19 tries and was named Dally M Winger of the Year in 1995, but his form gradually trailed off, leaving for Super League at the end of 1999 with 44 tries in 88 games for the Warriors to his credit. He made 34 Test appearances and scored 16 tries.
Quentin Pongia: West Coast product Pongia arrived at Canberra via Canterbury (NZ) in 1993 after making his Test debut the previous season. A vital component of the Raiders’ ’94 premiership side, the front-rower’s subsequent campaigns were frequently stymied by suspensions. He joined the Warriors in 1998 – a stint that lasted just one season – before enduring familiar judiciary woes with the Roosters. Pongia played 34 Tests for the Kiwis, including one as captain.
Jason Death: A product of Young (NSW), Death was Steve Walters’ hooker understudy at Canberra and also a handy option at lock, playing 57 games from 1991-95. After three seasons with the Cowboys, Death linked with the Warriors in 1999. His three-season stay encompassed 55 games, a Player of the Year award in 2000, a key role in the Warriors’ maiden finals appearance in ’01, and a fan section at Mt Smart Stadium dedicated to him: ‘Death Row’. Death wound up a 201-game career with three seasons at South Sydney.
Anthony Swann: Classy centre Anthony Swann played 36 games for the Warriors from 1996-98, playing one Test for the Kiwis against Great Britain in ’96. He spent a year at North Sydney, before playing 19 games in two seasons with Canberra and representing Samoa at the 2000 World Cup.
Odell Manuel: Powerhouse winger Manuel scored 13 tries in 39 games for the Warriors in 1999-2000, but linked with Canberra after representing New Zealand Maori at the 2000 World Cup. The move garnered 19 NRL appearances in two seasons, while he later became a champion power-lifter.
Justin Morgan: Handy front-rower Morgan played 83 games for Parramatta from 1994-99, before spending a season with Canberra and making 22 first grade appearances. The skilful bookend played 28 games for the Warriors in 2001-02, but did not feature in the club’s finals campaign in either year. Moving into coaching – including a five-season stint at the helm of Hull KR – Morgan returned to Auckland as Andrew McFadden’s assistant for the 2016 season.
Tyran Smith: Originally a winger, Kiwi Test forward Smith arrived at the Warriors in 1998 via stints at Souths, North Queensland and Hunter Mariners. He played 10 games for the Auckland club before playing for Balmain and Wests Tigers, and ended a colourful 188-game career with four seasons for Canberra (2002-05).
Ruben Wiki: A key figure in Canberra’s 1994 premiership triumph with 15 tries alongside Mal Meninga in the centres, Wiki fortuitously emerged through a contract squabble after reneging on a deal to join the fledgling Warriors and played 225 games for the Raiders over 12 seasons, moving into the forward pack in the late-1990s. One of the NRL’s genuine enforcers, he belatedly linked with the Warriors in 2005, playing 87 games in four memorable seasons. Wiki played a then-world record 54 Tests for the Kiwis and remains at the Warriors as head trainer.
Sione Faumuina: Versatile and supremely skilled, Faumuina was a 19-year-old debutant for Canberra in 2001, before returning home to Auckland the following season. Predominantly a back-rower, he played two Tests at five-eighth against Australia and made 88 appearances for the Warriors in five seasons, but off-field issues plagued his career, which wound down with stints at Hull, North Queensland and Castleford.
Bill Tupou: A promising wing prospect in 62 games (scoring 19 tries) for the Warriors, including a grand final appearance in 2011, Tupou was snapped up by Canberra midway through 2013. The nuggetty flyer struggled to nail down a permanent spot with the Raiders, playing just 14 games in two and a half seasons.
Shaun Berrigan: A Queensland Origin half, an Australian Test centre and a Clive Churchill Medal-winning hooker, Berrigan carved out a legacy as one of the greatest utilities of all-time in a 186-game tenure with Brisbane from 1999-2007. After three seasons with Hull FC, the veteran of 15 Origins and 14 Tests joined the Warriors in 2011, featuring at centre and hooker in 19 games but missing the club’s finals campaign. Berrigan joined Canberra the following year and finished a decorated career with 36 appearances in two seasons.
Matt Allwood: Scone-born centre Allwood’s 11-game rookie campaign for the Raiders in 2014 piqued the interest of the Warriors, who snapped him up for the following season. Allwood scored four tries in seven NRL appearances for the Warriors and was a consistent performer for the club’s ISP outfit before being released at the end of 2017.
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. He didn’t feature in first grade the following season but a stellar World Cup campaign for Tonga saw Havili snapped up by the Raiders, who were reeling from the long-term injury suffered by England Test hooker Josh Hodgson. Havili started in the No.9 for Canberra in the first two rounds of 2018.
Charlie Gubb: Wellington product Gubb became a Warriors crowd favourite after making his NRL debut in 2013. A rugged, no-nonsense front-rower with an appetite for tenacious defence, Gubb played 40 first-grade games for the club – including a career-high 14 in 2016 – but became increasingly frustrated at the lack of opportunities under Stephen Kearney in 2017. Gubb signed with Canberra for 2018 and played his first game for the Raiders in the Round 2 loss to Newcastle, but injury ruled him out of an early rematch with his former Warriors teammates.
Ata Hingano: An exciting halves prospect, Tongan international Hingano played 15 NRL games for the Warriors in 2016-17 but gained a release from the club after it signed veteran five-eighth Blake Green. Hingano linked with Canberra but has played on nine games in the top grade in 2018 – all off the bench.
THEY COACHED BOTH CLUBS
Matthew Elliott: Former St George forward and successful Bradford coach Elliott succeeded Mal Meninga at the helm of the Raiders in 2002 and steered the club to four finals series in five years, although he did not win a post-season match. A largely disappointing five-season stint at Penrith ended prematurely in 2011, but he was the surprise choice as the Warriors’ new mentor in 2013. A unique and likable character, Elliott’s charges finished 11th in his first season in Auckland but he stepped down five rounds into 2014 following a rocky start to the year.