The Warriors and South Sydney Rabbitohs have qualified for the finals in the same season just twice, but the clubs have still managed to produce some of the NRL era’s most extraordinary regular season matches during a wildly fluctuating rivalry.
Overall record: Played 36 – Warriors won 19, South Sydney won 17; Warriors scored 939 points, South Sydney scored 799 points.
Biggest wins: Warriors – 66-0 at Stadium Australia, 2006; South Sydney – 36-4 at nib Stadium, 2015.
Longest winning streaks: Warriors – 12 matches (1999-2007); South Sydney – 6 matches (2013-17).
Most appearances: John Sutton (South Sydney) – 22; Simon Mannering (Warriors) – 17; Stacey Jones (Warriors) – 15; Nathan Merritt (South Sydney) – 15; Lance Hohaia (Warriors) – 14; Manu Vatuvei (Warriors) – 14.
Most tries: Nathan Merritt (South Sydney) – 9; Jerome Ropati (Warriors) – 9; Lance Hohaia (Warriors) – 8; Alex Johnston (South Sydney) – 8; Manu Vatuvei (Warriors) – 8; Cody Walker (South Sydney) – 8; Francis Meli (Warriors) – 7; Brent Webb (Warriors) – 7; Fetuli Talanoa (South Sydney) – 6.
Most points: Adam Reynolds (South Sydney) – 104; Stacey Jones (Warriors) – 55; Lance Hohaia (Warriors) – 52; Tony Martin (Warriors) – 50; James Maloney (Warriors) – 44; Nathan Merritt (South Sydney) – 38.
1995-99 – SOUTHS BECOME A BOGEY
The Auckland Warriors’ first visit to the then-headquarters of rugby league, the Sydney Football Stadium, midway through their 1995 debut season garnered a 38-20 victory over South Sydney, with hooker Syd Eru scoring two tries. Eru bagged another double when the Rabbitohs made their maiden voyage to Auckland the following season, the Warriors prevailing 24-10.
But struggling Souths became a headache for the Warriors after the code came back together under the National Rugby League banner in 1998. The clubs faced off in the inaugural match of the NRL era, a Friday night Round 1 clash in Auckland. The home side led 18-12 inside the final 20 minutes but the Rabbitohs pulled off a 24-18 upset after high-profile recruits Tim Brasher and Terry Hermansson scored late tries.
Locked in a battle to avoid the wooden spoon towards the end of the season, South Sydney extinguished the Warriors’ slim finals hopes with a 20-18 boilover at the SFS. A 12-8 loss at Mt Smart in 1999 continued the Warriors’ run of outs against the Rabbitohs.
1999-2007 – WARRIORS PREVAIL IN RECORD ROUTS AND LAST-MINUTE THRILLERS
The Warriors began a 12-match winning streak against Souths late in 1999, featuring several merciless thrashings and cliff-hanger victories.
Round 21, 1999 – Short-handed Warriors grab comeback win
Auckland scored a miraculous 20-16 win over South Sydney at the SFS after trailing 10-6 at halftime and 16-10 with five minutes to go. A Logan Swann try trimmed the deficit to two points before Tony Tuimavave dotted down for the match-winner, both late touchdowns set up by brilliant halfback Stacey Jones. Hollywood actor Tom Cruise, draped in a red and green scarf, was on hand to watch the Rabbitohs capitulate in a body blow to their tenuous finals chances.
The Warriors surged to 25-18 and 46-10 wins after Souths were readmitted to the NRL in 2002. A 38-16 drubbing followed early in ’03, before the heavyweight Warriors squeezed past the last-placed Rabbitohs in extra-time mid-season.
Round 16, 2003 – Jones lands golden point match-winner
The mercurial Stacey Jones once again proved the Warriors’ saviour, sinking South Sydney 31-30 in an epic golden point triumph. The lowly Rabbitohs had opened up an imposing 24-6 lead early in the second half, but Jones’ try just before the hour mark opened the floodgates as the visitors ran in three more four-pointers in the space of 12 minutes to take a 30-24 lead. South regrouped, however, and Justin Smith converted his own try two minutes from fulltime to send the match in extra-time. Jones then broke the Bunnies’ hearts in the third minute of golden point, landing a 35-metre field goal to clinch the win.
The Warriors followed up that nail-biting result with five straight wins by 14 points or more, culminating in a history-making afternoon at Stadium Australia in 2006. The visitors ran in 13 tries – including a hat-trick to interchange Lance Hohaia – as they decimated South Sydney to the tune of 66-0, a record loss for the foundation club and the heaviest defeat suffered by a home side in premiership history.
The Rabbitohs were devastated at the ineptitude of their performance, with coach Shaun McRae, captain Peter Cusack and chief executive Shane Richardson offering an apology to their exasperated fans, who booed the players from the field.
Round 7, 2007 – Rabbitohs feel the Byrne
The Warriors pulled off arguably the most heart-stopping victory of 2007 against a shell-shocked South Sydney at Stadium Australia. The Rabbitohs were the beneficiaries of some dubious video referee decisions, allowing them to overturn a halftime deficit and lead 16-8 in the dying minutes. But the Warriors refused to throw in the towel and clung to a glimmer of hope when fullback Wade McKinnon scored a long-range try from a deft Steve Price offload. Invoking their trademark helter-skelter style of attack, the Warriors kept the ball alive with only seconds on the clock, and winger Todd Byrne latched onto an inch-perfect grubber from scheming five-eighth Michael Witt to seize a euphoric 18-16 victory.
The Rabbitohs went on to end an 18-year finals drought in ’07, while the Warriors returned to the finals after a three-season absence.
2008-14 – RABBITS ON THE RISE
Inspired by debutant halfback Chris Sandow, Souths earned their first victory over the Warriors in nine years midway through 2008. The Rabbitohs trailed 14-0 in even time at Mt Smart but rallied to lead 18-14 at halftime. The Warriors responded with three unanswered tries, but Souths crossed for the last two touchdowns of the match before Sandow’s field goal clinched a 35-28 victory. They backed it up with an 18-16 at home just eight weeks later.
The strong Kiwi connection in the South Sydney line-ups – including Issac Luke, David Kidwell, Roy Asotasi, Nigel Vagana and David Fa’alogo – added a little extra spice to the rivalry. Close, seesawing encounters between the clubs became the norm, with seven straight games decided by 10 points or less from 2006-11.
The Warriors’ tense 12-6 win midway through 2011 provided a moment of extreme embarrassment for enigmatic utility back Krisnan Inu, who bombed one try before breaking into the clear minutes later and dropping down a couple of gears as he coasted towards the tryline. He was mowed down by Souths’ rookie speed machine James Roberts, then completed a trio of bungles by obstructed the marker to bring up the red light after Kevin Locke had dived over.
The Warriors snapped the close-fought trend in a 48-16 shellacking late in 2011, Manu Vatuvei scoring three of the eventual grand finalists’ nine tries. They hammered the Rabbitohs again early the following season, posting eight tries in a 44-22 result.
The rivals produced a pair of outstanding contests in 2013. In Round 5, undefeated South Sydney led the last-placed Warriors 18-6 at Mt Smart before the home side surged to take a four-point lead. But burgeoning Rabbitohs front-rower George Burgess barged over for the match-winning try in just his eighth NRL appearance as the visitors held on for a 24-22 win.
Round 17, 2013 – Souths finish strong in western shootout
South Sydney halted the Warriors’ giant-killing run with a 30-13 victory in Perth in one of the season’s most absorbing clashes. Souths winger Andrew Everingham opened the scoring after just six minutes from a freakish Adam Reynolds kick, but Shaun Johnson laid on the equaliser for Simon Mannering with a sweet pass before Warriors wrecking ball Konrad Hurrell steamrolled Bryson Goodwin and Greg Inglis to score a stunning go-ahead try. Johnson added a field goal for a 13-6 halftime lead. Kicks continued to prove vital to the Rabbitohs’ cause, leading to further tries by John Sutton and Goodwin as Souths reclaimed the lead in the 68th minute. Goodwin and Chris McQueen crossed inside the final six minutes to create a convincing end scoreline that belied the closeness and quality of the encounter.
The keen combatants returned to Perth in 2014 and the Warriors were on course for a major upset, ahead 14-6 after 49 minutes while the Rabbitohs’ superstar fullback Greg Inglis had failed to take the field after halftime. But stand-in custodian Dylan Walker – who was later revealed to have suffered a broken thumb – spearheaded an incredible fight-back, scoring his second try and brilliantly setting up another among five unanswered four-pointers in a 34-18 triumph for the eventual premiers.
The Warriors’ Perth hoodoo continued when they were routed by the Rabbitohs 36-4 in 2015, Walker again starring with a double and impending recruit Luke slotting six goals.
Out-of-contention Souths notched their fifth straight win in the rivalry and dealt a crucial blow to the Warriors’ finals hopes in 2016, scoring a surprise 41-22 in Round 23 – their biggest win in Auckland. The Warriors were eighth heading into the match but the heavy loss to the Rabbitohs sparked a four-game losing streak to end the year. A dismal 36-18 loss to Souths continued the Warriors’ late-season spiral in 2017, with Alex Johnston scoring a hat-trick in the ANZ Stadium clash.
But the Warriors vanquished a couple of hoodoos in their 32-20 opening-round win in 2018, ending a six-match losing run against the Bunnies with their first-ever win in 10 visits to Perth.
David Fusitu’a scored two tries, while superstar trio Shaun Johnson, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Issac Luke were on fire as the reborn Warriors signalled to the NRL they were again finally a team to be reckoned with.
Souths responded with a authoritative 30-10 victory at Mount Smart Stadium 11 rounds later.
The clubs played out a Sunshine Coast thriller early in 2019, with South Sydney five-eighth Cody Walker’s four-try haul breaking the brave Warriors’ hearts in a 28-24 result.
The depleted Warriors held an unlikely lead inside the last 10 minutes, but Walker scored two late tries to snatch the result.
The result was much more emphatic when the Rabbitohs visited Mt Smart in the penultimate round of 2019, romping to a 31-10 victory over a weak Warriors outfit.
Brilliant young lock Cameron Murray was the undisputed star with two tries.
Souths’ post-COVID 19 clash with the Warriors at BankWest Stadium proved to be Stephen Kearney’s last in charge of the jettisoned Kiwi outfit, axed after a 40-12 loss in Round 6 of the 2020 season.
THEY PLAYED FOR BOTH CLUBS
Phil Blake: A freakishly-talented try-machine, Blake was a teenaged halfback star for Manly in the early-1980s but never fully realised his potential. After a renaissance at Souths that included 75 games from 1987-90 and a State of Origin debut, the versatile livewire endured underwhelming stints with Norths, Canberra and St George, but finished his career with a memorable stay as a foundation Warrior. He scored the club’s first-ever try from fullback and crossed for four tries in its maiden win, finishing a 268-game career with 138 touchdowns.
Gene Ngamu: Ngamu was groomed as Cliff Lyons’ long-term five-eighth successor at Manly, but after nine games in 1992-93 (and a New Zealand Test debut in the latter season) he was dumped after signing with the Warriors for their 1995 debut season. He played one game for South Sydney during the bridging ’94 season. A veteran of 22 Tests for the Kiwis, Ngamu scored 287 points in 81 games for Auckland – including a club record 28 against North Queensland in 1996.
Manoa Thompson: Exciting outside-back Thompson scored 29 tries in 61 games for Souths from 1989-94. After spending 1994 with Western Suburbs, he played seven games in the Auckland Warriors’ foundation season but left to join Warrington at the end of the year.
Tyran Smith: Originally a winger, Smith stormed into the Kiwis squad after a big 1994 season at lock for Souths, who he played 52 games for. He arrived at the Warriors in 1998 via stints at North Queensland and Hunter Mariners, playing 10 games for the Auckland club before turning out for Balmain and Wests Tigers, and ended a colourful 188-game career with four seasons for Canberra (2002-05).
Terry Hermansson: Granite-like prop Hermansson played 45 games across two stints (1993-94 and 1998) for Souths either side of a three-season stay with the Roosters. The four-Test Kiwi rep linked with the equally embattled Warriors in 1999, playing 39 games over two seasons.
Jason Bell: Livewire centre/half Bell played 106 games in two stints with Parramatta between 1989 and ’99, spending a year at Norths before playing 58 games in three seasons for Souths during the mid-1990s. Once dubbed ‘the next Peter Sterling’ as an Eels youngster, Bell linked with his former Parramatta halves partner John Simon at the Warriors in 2000, but his eight appearances for the Warriors included just three starts.
Jason Death: Former Canberra and North Queensland hooker/lock Death provided outstanding value to the erratic Warriors from 1999-2001, winning the club’s Player of the Year gong in his first season and playing 55 games. He joined Souths for their 2002 readmission and made 44 appearances in three seasons.
Wade McKinnon: Starting out with Souths – playing 26 games in 2002-03 – elusive fullback McKinnon came of age at Parramatta from 2004-06 before linking with the Warriors as a replacement for Leeds-bound Brent Webb. McKinnon produced many highlights in four seasons in Auckland, but his 54-game tenure was regularly interrupted by injury and suspension – though he did manage his sole appearance for NSW City in 2009 while at the club. The dynamic No.1 later enjoyed stints with Wests Tigers and Hull FC.
Joe Galuvao: Auckland-born Galuvao cut his teeth as an explosive centre/fullback for the Warriors, playing 27 first grade games from 1998-2000. But his career took off when he joined Penrith and switched to the back-row, winning a premiership there in 2003 and becoming a Kiwi international. After two seasons and 23 games at resurgent Souths (2007-08), Galuvao rejuvenated his career with 34 games for Parramatta in 2008-09, culminating in another grand final appearance in the latter season (a loss to Melbourne). The evergreen forward linked with Manly and became part of a select group to play in grand finals with three clubs, celebrating in the Sea Eagles’ win over the Warriors in 2011 decider. Galuvao retired in 2013 after 240 NRL appearances.
Nigel Vagana: Tryscoring centre Vagana crossed 37 times in 71 games for the Warriors (1996-2000), but spent the best seasons of his career at the Bulldogs in the early-2000s before a three-year stint with Cronulla. The 37-Test veteran – who scored a then-record 19 tries for the Kiwis – was a prized signing for the Rabbitohs in 2007, playing 32 games for the club over two seasons. With 140 tries, Vagana remained the highest non-Australian try-scorer in premiership history at the end of 2014.
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. After a short-lived stint at Bradford, ‘Danger’ joined South Sydney and has played seven NRL games for the club.
Issac Luke: Hawera-born Luke played 189 games in nine seasons for South Sydney (2007-15), scoring 412 points for the club and making his New Zealand Test debut in 2008. The 2013 RLIF Hooker of the Year heartbreakingly missed the Rabbitohs’ 2014 grand final win through suspension, and linked with the Warriors at the end of the following season. ‘Bully’ scored 194 points in 83 games for the Warriors – as well as finishing in the Dally M Medal top-10 in 2018 – and extended his Kiwis record to 43 Tests before heading back across the Tasman in 2020.
Bayley Sironen: The son of Balmain legend Paul Sironen, Bayley made his NRL debut for Wests Tigers in 2017 before playing 22 games for Souths in 2019-20. A specialist second-rower capable of filling in a five-eighth and centre, Sironen linked with the Warriors in 2021 and has played in 13 of their 17 games so far this season.
Taane Milne: Wayward ex-Dragons and Tigers three-quarter Milne was thrown a lifeline by the Warriors in 2019. He played just one NRL game for the club – a rousing display in a final-round upset of Canberra – before his 2020 season was derailed by injury. Milne was snapped up by the Rabbitohs in 2021, however, and has crossed for six tries in seven top-grade outings.