JANUARY 2, 1994
More than 14 months out from Auckland Warriors’ intensely anticipated premiership debut, Wigan chairman Jack Robinson ramped up a trans-hemispheric club feud by accusing John Monie of attempting to decimate the British heavyweight’s roster.
The Warriors’ capture of Wigan boss Monie as their inaugural coach was regarded as the club’s first major coup after getting the green light from the NSWRL in 1992. A premiership-winning coach at Parramatta in 1986, Monie enhanced his reputation as one of rugby league’s sharpest minds after succeeding New Zealand coaching icon (and original Warriors target) Graham Lowe at Wigan ahead of the 1989-90 English season.
Monie steered the cherry-and-whites to four straight First Division-Challenge Cup doubles in four seasons in charge at Central Park, among a swag of accompanying silverware. After accepting the Warriors job in 1993, however, Monie persuaded some of Wigan’s most experienced and decorated players to join him in laying the foundation blocks in Auckland.
Initially hesitant, Kiwi legend and Auckland product Dean Bell – captain for much of Wigan’s golden era under Lowe and Monie – penned a deal to become the first skipper of the new club. Champion prop Andy Platt, a fellow Man of Steel winner and veteran of 25 Tests for Great Britain, agreed to join Bell and Monie at the Warriors. Monie pursued Platt after a deal with Australia Test gun Ian Roberts fell through. Bell and Platt ended their tenures at Wigan after the 1993-94 campaign.
Meanwhile, the 24-year-old Denis Betts – regarded as arguably the world’s best second-rower – was reserving his decision whether to take up a contract with the Warriors until Wigan’s 1993-94 commitments were completed.
Robinson fired a series of public salvos in the direction of his once-prized coach in the early days of 1994, arguing Monie had promised not to approach Wigan players on Auckland’s behalf – a claim Monie refuted.
“A major attempt is being made to dismantle our side and reassemble it in the Auckland colours,” Robinson said.
Monie additionally countered Robinson’s statement by saying if he was to build an nucleus of British-based talent in Auckland by ruthlessly plundering Wigan’s playing stocks, he would have targeted young guns Phil Clarke, Jason Robinson and Andy Farrell.
“No one is twisting anyone’s arms,” Monie said.
“If it comes to a battle of dollars with Wigan, no one can match them. And I’m not even part of negotiations.
“If (Auckland Warriors CEO) Ian Robson asks me who is best to cover certain positions, it’s my responsibility to identify them.”
Robinson responded to the Warriors’ supposed raid by allegedly reneging on an agreement to waive a transfer fee for Bell. Instead, Wigan insisted upon the full £70,000 Test player fee – despite Bell finishing his Kiwis career in 1989.
The relationship between the clubs took several subsequent twists and turns before Auckland Warriors’ 1995 entry into the Australian competition.
Betts and New Zealand double international superboot Frano Botica signed on to join the exodus to Auckland after Wigan’s 1994-95 campaign.
The Warriors then agreed to release brilliant Kiwi youngster Henry Paul, one of the club’s first signings, who requested an upgrade after his value skyrocketed in the wake of a call-up to the New Zealand Test team while on tour with the Junior Kiwis in late-1993. The Warriors allowed Paul to join Wigan in return for the waiving of 31-year-old Platt’s transfer fee – retrospectively viewed as one of the fledgling outfit’s most costly personnel blunders.
Wigan was the not the only club the Warriors became embroiled in ugly disputes with. Canberra released Kiwi Test winger Sean Hoppe in the 1994 pre-season after he signed with Auckland, while the Warriors became involved (and ultimately lost) a lengthy legal wrangle with the Raiders over boom centre Ruben Wiki (stay tuned to future editions ‘This Day In Warriors History…’).
Despite ongoing on-field success, Wigan and Robinson endured tempestuous and short-lived relationships with their succeeding coaches, former Australian Test star John Dorahy and New Zealand great Graeme West.
Following his sacking as Auckland Warriors coach midway through 1997, Monie returned to Wigan (which, ironically, also adopted the Warriors moniker for the inaugural 1996 Super League season) and coached a side containing Paul to victory in the 1998 Super League Grand Final, by which stage Robinson’s reign as chairman had ended.
Robinson passed away in 2020, aged 77.
Sources: Rugby League Week (Neil Cadigan); Rugby League 1995 (David Middleton); Warriors 25 (Will Evans)
Wigan Warriors are to saddened announce the passing of former Chairman, Jack Robinson, aged 77.
Robinson served the Club over a 18-year period from 1979 as director and later as Chairman for five years until August 1997. pic.twitter.com/pO4dK6Txtk
— Wigan Warriors 🍒⚪️ (@WiganWarriorsRL) May 6, 2020