JANUARY 18, 1995
The Auckland Warriors’ impending premiership debut created a hype train with runaway momentum rarely seen in the history of New Zealand sport.
Less than two months out from Round 1 of the 1995 Winfield Cup, the Warriors donned the famous blue, green, red and white strip for the first time – at Addington Show Grounds in Christchurch for a showdown with the Canterbury provincial team.
A record 12,811-strong crowd packed out the Show Grounds as Warriors-mania gripped an entire nation.
The advent of the Auckland Warriors had thinned out Canterbury’s ranks, with Simon Angell, Logan Edwards, Mike Dorreen, Jason Duff, Takofe Kalauta and Whetu Taewa all signing on for the club’s entry to the Australian premiership.
The Warriors sent a star-studded squad south, including the mercurial Phil Blake and Kiwi internationals Tea Ropati, Gene Ngamu, Gavin Hill, Hitro Okesene, Tony Tatupu, Duane Mann and foundation captain Dean Bell. The new-look, Lex Clarke-coached Canterbury side was skippered by hooker Patrick Kiely, and featured Glenn Coughlan at lock and an experienced three-quarter line with Blair Harding, Aaron Vincent and Walter Wilson.
The home side held the Warriors to just a 4-2 lead at halftime. Martin Moana scored the visitors’ first try from a Tatupu offload. Warriors half Willie Swann and Papanui product Kalauta dotted down in the final quarter as they kicked out to a comfortable lead.
But second-rower Darryn Avery – arguably Canterbury’s best on the day – and Kiely struck back with tries in quick succession to peg the final scoreline back to a commendable 26-12. Harding was another standout on attack and defence up against fellow Kiwi centres Ropati and Bell.
The Warriors played and won subsequent trial matches against further provincial opposition, Central Districts in Palmerston North (36-16), Auckland at Carlaw Park (46-20) and Northland in Kaikohe (66-6), while their gruelling maiden pre-season schedule also included matches against Canberra and Western Reds, the World Sevens and the first round of the Toohey’s Challenge Cup (stay tuned for future editions of This Day In Warriors History).
The Warriors made their first premiership appearance in Christchurch in 1996, going down to Sydney Tigers 34-22 in a boilover at Lancaster Park. They would lose subsequent games at the famed rugby union venue to Wests Tigers in 2004, 2005 and 2006, before breaking their duck in the city in 2010 with a win over Sydney Roosters in atrocious conditions – the famous Kevin Locke hat-trick buzzer-beater game.
The club later turned out the code’s spiritual home in Canterbury, Rugby League Park (formerly Addington Show Grounds), against Penrith in 2016 (a 30-18 loss), and Manly in 2018 (a 34-14 win) and 2019 (a 46-12 loss).