Robert Anderson is a Brisbane-based Warriors fan and long-time member of the club. Throughout 2020, he will share his memories and thoughts on his beloved team for This Warriors Life. Here’s the second edition of Robert’s ‘Warrior-Roo’ blog (find previous entries HERE):
It was 2003…Francis Meli scored five tries in a qualifying final thrashing of the Bulldogs, Stacey Jones kicked us clear of the Raiders in the semis and we just came up short against a red-hot Panthers in the prelim. Things were looking good for the Warriors and 2004 was shaping as a massive season.
I thought it was about time I made my long-awaited home debut at what was then Ericsson Stadium. Checking the 2004 draw we had consecutive home games in rounds 2 and 3 against St George-Illawarra and Penrith respectively. I booked my flights to Auckland and all was in place for my much anticipated maiden crossing of the Tasman!
Firstly, though, we had a trial game against Parramatta at the old Carrara Stadium on the Gold Coast. It was mid-February and there was a heatwave throughout South East Queensland following a shocking storm that caused widespread power outages. It was a sweltering night and the players had to wear ice vests on the sideline. The Warriors shot out to a razzle-dazzle 10-0 lead early before being mowed down by the Eels 24-22. Ball-handling was atrocious, especially for a team trying to play basketball!
Several weeks later Round 1 of the NRL campaign saw us play our first game at the newly renovated Suncorp Stadium against the Broncos. I was pumped and could visualise the stadium suiting our style of play on a dry track…so of course it rained that day. Interesting to note Motu Tony had switched to the Broncos and was named to start at fullback, only for a late change seeing a young bloke by the name of Karmichael Hunt come into the team. The 17-year-old Hunt’s first involvement in the game was an in-goal fumble that led to a Brent Webb try. He was also hit with a Francis Meli special right in front of where we were sitting! However, amazingly enough he bounced straight back to his feet – unlike Brent Tate before him. Again the Warriors shot out to a 10-0 lead before succumbing 28-20 to the heavyweight Broncos.
All good, there was enough in that performance for me to have confidence that 2004 was going to be another great season. And with that I found myself on a plane over to Auckland.
The one thing I immediately noticed was that there was no obvious way to get out to the stadium. The stadium itself was a fair way out of Auckland city itself and the best way to get there was by train, followed by a 15-minute walk to the stadium. I guess I was used to being spoiled by the comprehensive shuttle bus services out to Suncorp Stadium! So I jumped on the train at Britomart, not really having any idea how to actually get there. Luckily there was another guy in a Warriors jersey on the train so I followed him, only mildly concerned that he decided to walk along the train tracks!
Finally I arrived at the gates and made my way past the practice fields to the main gates to buy my ticket. The first thing that struck me was how different it looked in the flesh compared to on TV. It’s situated in the middle of an industrial area, well outside the city and not really a place you would expect to find a stadium. This was also before the large grandstand had been completed so it did look a lot different to what it does now.
I found my seat and watched the remainder of the curtain-raiser match, which from memory was a couple of local teams. I was also excited to be sitting directly behind the Warriors’ injured brigade and younger players. PJ Marsh, who would not play a game that season due to a neck injury, was right in front of me, but I was too shy to ask for an autograph! Another sight to behold was a mountain of a young man walking up the stairs with a huge mane of orange hair. When he saw his teammates he flashed a grin of gold teeth and had a distinctive laugh. He would make his first grade debut later that season…I think you can guess the identity of this guy!
There was a sense of deja vu about the game itself. We got out to an early 10-0 lead through tries to Meli and Fa’afili, but eventually got run down by the Dragons who finished with a 16-10 victory. Frustrating for sure – something just wasn’t right with the boys.
I got talking with the bloke sitting next to me, a lovely guy by the name of Mike. He was a Warriors tragic who went to every game with his daughter and brother. To be honest my first impression of him was ‘geez, he looks like the Mad Butcher’! After I told him about my difficulties getting to the stadium he generously gave me a lift back to the Auckland YHA where I was staying. He suggested that I try and get the same seat for the next home game the following week against Penrith.
Another awful performance on the field in a 42-22 loss to the Panthers as Amos Roberts raced in for four tries, but it was great to see Mike and his family again and he even invited me over for dinner after the game, before again giving me a lift back to Auckland. After sending Christmas cards back and forth for a year or so I have since lost touch with Mike unfortunately as this was the days before social media. Mike, if you ever read this, you know where to find me!
Such warmth and generosity from fellow Warriors supporters plays a massive part in making this journey so memorable. It made for such a positive experience despite the dreadful on-field performances and for this reason I will never forget the 2004 season.