Cronulla’s early and recent periods of dominance bookended a decade where the Warriors held the upper hand, leaving the Sharks with a six-win advantage after a rivalry spanning 25 seasons. Incredibly, almost a third of the teams’ 42 encounters have been decided by four points or less, while they’ve produced an unforgettable preliminary final and a string of regular season nail-biters.
Overall record: Played 42 – Cronulla won 25, Warriors won 17; Cronulla scored 887 points, Warriors scored 744 points.
Biggest wins: Cronulla – 45-4 at Mt Smart Stadium, 2012; Warriors – 30-0 at Mt Smart Stadium, 2001.
Longest winning streaks: Cronulla – 5 matches (2012-14); Warriors – 3 games (twice – 2002-03 and 2010-11).
Finals: Played 1 – Warriors won 1.
Most appearances: Paul Gallen (Cronulla) – 24; Simon Mannering (Warriors) – 20; Stacey Jones (Warriors) – 17; Ben Matulino (Warriors) – 16; Manu Vatuvei (Warriors) – 14; Jacob Lillyman (Warriors) – 13; David Peachey (Cronulla) – 13; Sam Rapira (Warriors) – 13; Logan Swann (Warriors) – 13.
Most tries: Manu Vatuvei (Warriors) – 11; David Peachey (Cronulla) – 10; Wairangi Koopu (Warriors) – 6; Nathan Stapleton (Cronulla) – 6; Colin Best (Cronulla) – 5; Clinton Toopi (Warriors) – 5; Richard Villasanti (Warriors and Cronulla) – 5.
Most points: Shaun Johnson (Warriors and Cronulla) – 67; Luke Covell (Cronulla) – 60; Mat Rogers (Cronulla) – 50; James Maloney (Warriors and Cronulla) – 47; Manu Vatuvei (Warriors) – 44; Todd Carney (Cronulla) – 40; Ivan Cleary (Warriors) – 40; David Peachey (Cronulla) – 40.
1995-2001 – Sharks enjoy early running
The fledgling Auckland Warriors’ first clash with the Cronulla Sharks was a thriller, with the premiership newcomers prevailing 23-18 at Shark Park after scoring five tries to three against the finals-bound hosts. But the match was arguably more significant for being 19-year-old Stacey Jones’ initial first grade run-on appearance, starring at five-eighth and booting a field goal.
Bragging rights over the first seven seasons of the rivalry belonged to the Sharks, however, winning six of the first nine encounters between the clubs – including a 28-24 victory in their first visit to Mt Smart Stadium in 1996.
At the end of ’96, Cronulla and Auckland faced off in the reserve grade grand final. An experienced Sharks side saw off the gallant, Aaron Whittaker-led Warriors 14-12 at the Sydney Football Stadium.
One of the most memorable matches occurred in 1999, when a late Mitch Healey conversion from the sideline in driving Auckland rain snatched a 22-20 victory for the Sharks, the NRL’s eventual minor premiers.
2001-11 – Warriors claim the ascendancy
The Warriors marked the beginning of a 10-year period that would garner 11 wins in 18 meetings with the Sharks by swamping them 30-0 at Mt Smart late in the 2001 campaign, a result that was crucial in lifting the club to its first finals appearance.
Honours were shared in a pair of high-scoring showdowns in the 2002 regular season – the Warriors romping to a 42-20 win at home, the Sharks prevailing 36-24 in the return clash – before the heavyweight clubs squared off again in an epic preliminary final.
Preliminary Final, 2002 – Warriors grab maiden grand final berth
The minor premiership-winning Warriors gave away 10,000 tickets to anyone holding a New Zealand passport, ensuring the hometown advantage was blunted for the Sharks, despite a 45,702-strong turnout at Stadium Australia for the second preliminary final. Underdogs despite their lofty ladder position, the Warriors scored first after an ill-conceived pass from Paul Mellor was spectacularly snaffled by utility Motu Tony, who scampered 20 metres for a try in the 20th minute. The Sharks belatedly opened their account three minutes after halftime, hitting back when winger Matthew Rieck scored from a Brett Kimmorley bomb. The Warriors pushed to a 10-4 lead thanks to a stunning 50-metre solo try from boom centre Clinton Toopi in the 55th minute, but Kimmorley set up a tense final quarter when he darted over next to the posts to level the scores. With a maiden grand final spot on the line, it was left to Warriors talisman Stacey Jones to come up with the big play. The little halfback threaded an inch-perfect grubber through, sitting up beautifully for journeyman centre John Carlaw to latch onto with five and a half minutes left and securing a 16-10 triumph.
The Warriors racked up two wins over the Sharks in 2003, but the Shire dwellers won the next three games the clubs contested – including a 28-24 victory in Perth in 2005.
The rivals then traded wins for five seasons, with neither side able to go back-to-back in eight meetings from 2006-10.
The finals-bound Warriors broke that run in 2010, following up a 30-10 win at home in Round 2 – featuring a Manu Vatuvei hat-trick – with a 37-10 drubbing at Toyota Stadium in Round 22, rookie winger Bill Tupou this time notching a treble.
A sizzling double to fullback Glen Fisiiahi spearheaded the Warriors’ 26-18 win over the Sharks in a historic encounter at Owen Delaney Park in Taupo early in 2011, giving the Warriors three consecutive victories in the rivalry for the just the second time.
2012-17 – Sharks circle again
Cronulla turned the tables on the Warriors emphatically in 2012. Todd Carney engineered a 20-19 win at home after the Sharks had trailed by 11 points with 10 minutes left, setting up two tries for halves partner Jeff Robson. Seven weeks later Carney scored 25 points as the Sharks romped to a 45-4 win in Auckland – the Warriors’ second-biggest defeat at Mount Smart Stadium.
The Sharks chalked up another pair of wins in 2013, followed by a 37-6 demolition early in 2014 that saw Nathan Stapleton score four tries and would prove to be Matthew Elliott’s last game in charge of the Warriors before Andrew McFadden was handed the coaching reins.
The Warriors enjoyed some respite, holding on for a nervy 16-12 win at home later in 2014 before producing one of the great escapes of recent years the following season.
Round 9, 2015 – Johnson snatches insane buzzer-beater
Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson added another highlight to his reel of clutch match-winning moments at Cronulla’s expense at Remondis Stadium. Fresh from steering the Kiwis to a memorable Anzac Day triumph just six days earlier, Johnson broke a 10-all deadlock in the 73rd minute by darting through the line and putting in a stunning kick for Solomone Kata to score. But that act of brilliance was negated by a solo try by Andrew Fifita and a cool-headed conversion from Valentine Holmes that put the Sharks 16-14 in front with less than three minutes on the clock. Johnson stole the result with a mesmerising individual try with a minute left, leaving a trail of Cronulla defenders strewn in his wake before dotting down.
Johnson’s season-ending injury in Round 20 cruelled the Warriors’ bid for a finals spot, and the Sharks took advantage a week later courtesy of a 18-14 victory at Mt Smart that helped them on their way to a sixth-place finish.
The visitors overcame a 10-0 halftime deficit via a brilliant Valentine Holmes double and the match-winning try to Ricky Leutele in the 70th minute, with Tuimoala Lolohea denied a last-minute leveller by the video referee.
The clubs continued the trend of nail-biters in 2016 with a golden point classic as a Cronulla side containing former Warriors James Maloney, Chad Townsend and Jayson Bukuya pipped a visiting Warriors outfit featuring ex-Sharks Blake Ayshford and Jonathan Wright.
Round 16, 2016 – Maloney thwarts former teammates
The Warriors, sitting 10th on the ladder but coming off three straight wins, took it to competition leaders Cronulla early at Southern Cross Group Stadium, with former Sharks Blake Ayshford and Jonathan Wright scoring for a 10-0 lead. But Michael Ennis and Ricky Leutele grabbed tries in the last six minutes before halftime to snatch a 12-10 advantage for the hosts. A contentious penalty try to ex-Vodafone Warrior Jayson Bukuya extended the margin to eight points, but a Thomas Leuluai four-pointer and a penalty goal with six minutes left to Issac Luke sent the match into golden point. It was another familiar face that landed the decisive blow during a nerve-shredding extra period, however, with James Maloney slotting a wobbly field goal in the 87th minute to secure the Sharks’ seventh win in their last nine clashes with the Warriors.
The defending premier Sharks eased to a 26-12 win over the slumping Warriors late in 2017.
The teams played out a controversial thriller at Mt Smart last season, with Edrick Lee scoring the 78th-minute match-winner for Cronulla off a forward pass.
Just in case you were on the fence about whether Paul Gallen was the biggest wanker of the NRL era or not…#NRLWarriorsSharks #ShireBogan #worsethanDavidWarner #seeyouinSeptemberballbag pic.twitter.com/wrI8ifXCfS
— This Warriors Life (@thiswarriorslyf) June 29, 2018
Shaun Johnson’s controversial exit from the Warriors in late-2018 – eventually settling on a move to the Sharks – added a tantalising extra element to the rivalry.
The playmaking wizard set up the opening try in a Wellington thriller in 2019 but opposite number Kodi Nikorima and former halves partner Blake Green were the heroes in a come-from-behind 19-18 victory.
— NRL (@NRL) July 22, 2019
— NRL (@NRL) July 19, 2019
But after losing a points decision in his first clash with his former club, Johnson earned a knockout victory five weeks later as the Sharks romped to a 42-16 victory at home.
Johnson kicked seven-from-seven, ran for over 100 metres and had a try-assist in a dominant display – one of his best in a very patchy initial campaign in the Shire. For their part, the Warriors (RTS aside) were a bumbling mess.
Johnson again had the biggest say in the teams’ two 2020 encounters. He torched the Warriors with a try among an 18-point haul plus two try-assists in a 46-10 beat-down in Round 10.
The Sharks encountered a rejuvenated Warriors team eight weeks later but snuffed out their late finals bid with a later surge in a 22-14 result, Johnson laying on two tries.
The sensational announcement midway through 2021 that Johnson would be returning to the Warriors at the end of the season added another fascinating subplot to the finals hopefuls’ two matches in the last nine rounds.
THEY PLAYED FOR BOTH CLUBS
Vince Mellars: Wellington-born centre Mellars played seven games for the Warriors in 2003-04 before linking with Cronulla, scoring two tries in five games for the Sharks. He subsequently joined the Roosters and played a career-high 12 games in 2006, but was not sighted in the NRL thereafter and later resurfaced in Super League in 2010.
Tevita Leo-Latu: Nuggetty hooker Leo-Latu played 22 first grade games for the Warriors from 2003-05, and came off the bench in the 2004 Anzac Test for New Zealand. Joining Cronulla in 2006 for a one-season stint that produced 10 NRL appearances, Leo-Latu then linked with Wakefield Trinity. The Richmond junior also represented Tonga at the 2008 World Cup.
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, Eels and Sharks, playing nine games for the latter in 2007 before turning his hand to refereeing. Perenara has been an NRL referee since 2011.
Dane Nielsen: After playing one NRL game for Cronulla in 2007, Nielsen became a Queensland Origin rep and premiership winner during five seasons in Melbourne. He 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.
Jason Bukuya: Fiji international Bukuya debuted for the Sharks in 2008 and was a permanent member of their first-grade line-up by the time he joined the Warriors in 2014. The second-rower played 18 games in one season for the Auckland-based club before returning to Cronulla, where he took his total to 168 games and won a grand final before giving the game away in 2020.
Blake Ayshford: After bringing up a century of NRL games with Wests Tigers, centre Ayshford’s career stalled during a two-season stint at Cronulla in 2014-15 that garnered just 20 first grade appearances. Ayshford linked with the Warriors in 2016, however, and scored 13 tries in 43 of a possible 48 games in the top flight until the end of 2017. An injury-enforced delayed start to 2018 and an influx of outside-back signings has kept Ayshford in reserve grade all of last year, while he managed just seven NRL appearances in 2019 before hanging up the boots.
Jeremy Latimore: Underrated journeyman Latimore cut his teeth in the NRL with Parramatta before playing 24 games for the Warriors in 2010-11. After a season at St George Illawarra and a four-year stay at Penrith, the consistent front-rower joined Cronulla in 2017, making 19 appearances for the defending premiers before returning to the Dragons.
James Maloney: Dynamic half Maloney debuted for Melbourne but was a virtual unknown when he joined the Warriors in 2010. He made a monumental impact as an ultra-competitive playmaker and clutch goalkicker, helping spearhead the club’s drive to the 2011 grand final. He moved to Bondi Junction in 2013 was outstanding in the Roosters’ premiership triumph, scoring 252 points and starring in that year’s grand final victory. Maloney repeated the dose after joining Cronulla in 2016, steering the club to its first title. A veteran of 11 Origins for NSW and three Tests for Australia, Maloney scored 380 points in 45 games for the Sharks but joined Penrith ahead of the 2018 season.
Jeff Robson: After playing just six games across five seasons for Manly, Robson emerged as a surprise hero of Parramatta’s charge to the 2009 grand final. The wily halfback played 61 games for the Eels from 2009-11, before providing excellent value in four seasons as Cronulla’s No.7, with his 92 appearances including three finals campaigns. His move to the Warriors in 2016 lasted just seven first grade outings, however, as he sought a mid-season release to return to Parramatta. Robson made another 10 NRL appearances for the blue-and-golds.
Brett Seymour: Regarded as Allan Langer’s heir apparent after debuting for the Broncos as a 17-year-old in 2002, injuries dictated that classy halfback Seymour played just 62 first grade games for the club before linking with Cronulla in 2007. Seymour played 39 games in three seasons for the Sharks, before heading to Auckland and racking up 22 games for the Warriors in 2010-11. Seymour’s professional career wrapped up with Super League club Hull FC.
Misi Taulapapa: Marist Richmond junior Taulapapa made a belated NRL debut at 24 years of age, playing five games for the Warriors in 2006. He linked with the Sharks the following season, playing 33 games in three years – including a hat-trick in a finals win over Canberra in 2008. The Tongan international went on to have stints with English clubs Sheffield Eagles and Featherstone Rovers.
Chad Townsend: Had two stints for both clubs. Cronulla junior Townsend debuted for the Sharks in 2011 and captained the club’s NSW Cup team to a premiership in 2013 before joining the Warriors. He played 41 games in two seasons for the Warriors, but returned to the Sharks for family reasons in 2016 – ironically replacing Auckland-bound Jeff Robson in the halves. Townsend was a key figure in the Sharks’ surge to the 2016 premiership and racked up 146 games before signing a rich deal to join North Queensland in 2022. Stuck in reserve grade at Cronulla, Townsend inked a short-term contract to link with the Warriors for the last 10 rounds of 2021.
Nigel Vagana: A prolific try-scorer for the Auckland Warriors, Vagana crossed 37 times in 71 games from 1996-2000 before being snapped up by the Bulldogs. He scored scoring 61 tries in just 76 games for the blue-and-whites – including club records for tries in a match (5) and a season (23) in 2002 – and taking out the Dally M Centre of the Year award in 2001-02. The Kiwi Test veteran scored 32 tries in 61 games for Cronulla from 2004-06 before finishing his decorated career at South Sydney.
Richard Villasanti: Intimidating forward Villasanti arrived at the Warriors in 2001 via stints at Balmain and Wests Tigers. He played 96 games for the Warriors – including the club’s maiden grand final appearance in ’02 before becoming its first Australian Test representative the following season – but joined Cronulla midway through 2006, playing seven NRL games in the Sharks’ colours.
Jonathan Wright: Former Parramatta utility-back Wright played 38 games for the Bulldogs in 2011-12, scoring 14 tries in the latter season and featuring in the club’s grand final loss to the Storm. After two seasons at Cronulla that garnered 41 NRL appearances, Wright linked with the Warriors and featured 29 times in first grade in 2015-16, but joined Manly ahead of the 2017 season.
Blake Green: Journeyman five-eighth Green had uneventful stints with Parramatta Cronulla (where he played 19 first-grade games in 2008-09) and Canterbury, but a four-season Super League stint – which included a Harry Sunderland Trophy win in Wigan’s 2013 grand final success – turned his career around. Green’s two-year stay at Melbourne garnered 50 games and a grand final appearance in 2016, while he was hailed as one of the buys of the year after linking with Manly in 2017. The wily 31-year-old playmaker’s influence was striking after joining the Warriors this year, touted as a possible NSW Origin bolter at one stage and helping steer the Warriors to the finals. Green struggled somewhat as the main shot-caller following Shaun Johnson’s departure and left for Newcastle midway through 2020 after 55 games for the Warriors.
Gerard Beale: Brisbane-born Beale made his NRL debut with the Broncos in 2009 and broke into the Kiwis side two years later. After two seasons with St George Illawarra, the versatile back joined Cronulla in 2015 and played 70 games across three seasons – including the 2016 grand final triumph. The veteran of 11 Tests for New Zealand linked with the Warriors in 2018 and has played 31 games in the top flight after a broken leg suffered during the 2017 World Cup delayed his start with his new club. Was predominantly a backline back-up in Auckland, playing 32 games in three seasons before being released. He was thrown a lifeline by the Dragons in 2021.
Shaun Johnson: A brilliant, influential attacking halfback who was the face of the Warriors virtually from his 2011 debut until his departure at the end of 2018, Johnson was also a relentlessly maligned figure during his time in Auckland. Perceived as enigmatic and inconsistent, Johnson nevertheless carried the Warriors on his back on countless occasions. In 162 games he scored 63 tries and a club record 917 points. Joining Cronulla after his contentious split with the Warriors, an injury-hampered Johnson ran into similar criticism about his form for the Sharks, despite some flashes of genius. But he led the NRL in try-assists in 2020, despite a Achilles injury finishing his campaign early, and led a Sharks revival following his mid-2021 return – after which Johnson announced he would be returning to the Warriors in 2022. Has played 41 games for Cronulla to date, scoring 263 points.