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[Rivalry] Holding home edge

Will Evans | Image: www.photosport.nz

The Warriors and Canberra Raiders clashed before even taking the field against one another but ultimately the two clubs have forged a fascinating and fluctuating rivalry marked by semi-final classics, golden point thrillers and home ground hoodoos.

 

The records

Overall record: Played 37 – Vodafone Warriors won 17; Canberra 20; Canberra 831 points, Vodafone Warriors 815 points.

Biggest wins: Canberra – 56-12 at Canberra Stadium, 2000; Vodafone Warriors – 54-12 at Eden Park, 2014.

Longest winning streaks: Vodafone Warriors – 5 matches (2013-2015); Canberra – 4 matches (1999-2001).

Finals: Played 2 – Vodafone Warriors won 2.

Most appearances: Stacey Jones (Vodafone Warriors) – 20; Ruben Wiki (Canberra and Vodafone Warriors) – 18; Simon Woolford (Canberra) – 16; Simon Mannering (Vodafone Warriors) – 16; Logan Swann (Vodafone Warriors) – 15.

Most Tries: Manu Vatuvei (Vodafone Warriors) – 17; Jarrod Croker (Canberra) – 16; Laurie Daley (Canberra) – 7; Shaun Johnson (Vodafone Warriors) – 7; Mark McLinden (Canberra) – 7.

Most Points: Jarrod Croker (Canberra) – 128; Shaun Johnson (Vodafone Warriors) – 88; Manu Vatuvei (Vodafone Warriors) – 68.

 

The games

1995-2000 – Spicy beginning to rivalry

Aggressively pursuing quality Australian-based Kiwi players for their 1995 premiership entry immediately put the Auckland Warriors at odds with Winfield Cup powerhouse Canberra.

Northcote winger Sean Hoppe rocketed to New Zealand Test status after joining the Raiders in 1992, but was jettisoned by the club at the end of the following season when he agreed to terms with the fledgling Warriors.

Hoppe instead spent the bridging 1994 season at Norths but tension between the clubs stepped up a gear when another Auckland product powerful young centre Ruben Wiki was involved in a contractual battle between the two clubs. The would-be Warrior opted instead to join the Raiders and, by the end of the 1994 season, he had won a grand final as a key member of the Canberra side and was adamant about remaining with the club.

The long-running dispute appeared set to sideline Wiki for the ’95 season but the Warriors eventually relented. Ironically, Wiki would join the Vodafone Warriors a decade later after cementing a legacy as one of the Raiders’ finest servants.

Hoppe scored the Warriors’ only try of their hard-fought maiden encounter against Canberra in Auckland in the penultimate round of 1995 but a pair of Laurie Daley four-pointers laid the platform for a 15-8 result in favour of the defending champs. Auckland was greeted by a Ken Nagas hat-trick and a 30-6 drubbing in its first venture to Canberra – an all-too-familiar outcome for travelling Warriors sides in subsequent seasons.

A 31-24 upset during the 1997 Super League season remained the Warriors’ only victory at Canberra Stadium until 2014. Despite generally disastrous campaigns overall, Auckland managed wins over the Raiders at Ericsson Stadium in 1998-1999 but ensuing road trips to Canberra garnered frightful beatings, 22-46 (1999) and 12-56 (2000). Barnstorming wing Lesley Vainikolo scored two tries for Canberra in each thrashing, compounding the Vodafone Warriors’ woes.

 

2001-2003 – Vodafone Warriors bounce Raiders from finals

The Vodafone Warriors gained brief respite in Canberra in 2001 via a 22-10 win at Manuka Oval, a venue traditionally used for cricket and Australian Rules (a scheduling clash with rugby union’s ACT Brumbies had forced the Raiders to relocate the game).

They qualified for their first finals series that year and claimed the minor premiership in 2002, before disposing of the eighth-placed Raiders in the Auckland-hosted qualifying final.

 

Qualifying final, 2002 – Cruise to victory in historic finals clash

The maiden finals match in premiership history to be played outside Australia also brought the Vodafone Warriors’ first-ever post-season win.

On a history-making afternoon at Mt Smart Stadium, the Vodafone Warriors took an express passage to the preliminary final via a 36-20 defeat of Canberra. Holding a tenuous 14-10 halftime advantage, the home side proved too strong in the second stanza. Stacey Jones was the star of the six-tries-to-four result, scoring a try, laying on two more and having a hand in another pair of four-pointers.

The clubs clashed twice in the space of a month during the 2003 regular season – Canberra prevailing 18-10 after taking a home game to Wellington and the Vodafone Warriors chalking up a 26-18 win at Mt Smart before staging a classic semi-final in Sydney after the Raiders secured a top-four finish and the Vodafone Warriors rallied to finish sixth.

 

Semi-final, 2003 – Jones field goal sinks Raiders in thriller

A bumper crowd of 31,616 (boosted by a 10,000-ticket giveaway promotion by Vodafone Warriors boss Eric Watson) descended on the Sydney Football Stadium for a semi-final featuring two out-of-town teams and the throng was treated to a gripping spectacle.

The Raiders – first-week losers to Melbourne at home – raced to a 10-0 lead but the Vodafone Warriors, who had shocked the third-placed Bulldogs with a 48-22 blitz seven days prior, drew level by halftime through tries to Logan Swann and Clinton Toopi.

A trademark aerial try to winger Henry Fa’afili gave the Vodafone Warriors their first lead after the break before Raiders prop Luke Davico charged over to set up a 16-all impasse with 23 minutes remaining.

The nerve-jangling final quarter reached its pivotal moment in the 75th minute when Canberra centre Jason Bulgarelli fumbled a Mark McLinden grubber which had sat up perfectly for him with the try-line beckoning.

The Vodafone Warriors worked the ball downfield from the changeover and mercurial halfback Stacey Jones calmly potted the match-winning one-pointer with three minutes remaining, leaving a shattered Bulgarelli and the Raiders to lament a gilt-edged opportunity that had fallen by the wayside.

The Vodafone Warriors were eliminated by eventual premiers Penrith the following weekend, while Canberra had to wait another 13 years for a preliminary final appearance.

 

2004-2014 – Capital curse continues

The Vodafone Warriors and Canberra became recognised as two of the most unpredictable outfits in the NRL, failing when spruiked as finals hopefuls by the pundits, and surging into the top eight with late-season charges after being tipped as also-rans.

But matches between the teams overwhelming favoured the home side. The Raiders broke a nine-year, six-match drought in Auckland with a 23-16 victory in 2010. The Warriors’ Canberra Stadium hoodoo, meanwhile, stretched to nine matches – they endured an incredible 17-year wait between wins at the venue.

 

Round 20, 2004 – Schifcofske gives Canberra extraordinary golden point win

Canberra fullback Clinton Schifcofske exacted partial revenge for the Raiders’ heart-breaking finals loss to the Vodafone Warriors the previous season by landing field goals either side of the 80-minute mark.

The Vodafone Warriors had built a 28-18 lead midway through the second half at Canberra Stadium, but Raiders five-eighth Matt Gafa completed a hat-trick to level the scores.

A recurring nightmare loomed for Canberra when Stacey Jones landed a 78th-minute field goal, before the cool-headed Schifcofske sent the contest into extra-time with his own one-pointer. Schifcofske snatched a vital victory for the precariously placed Raiders via a wobbly field goal just 90 seconds into the added period.

Canberra thumped the Vodafone Warriors at home (32-12) and away (42-22) on its way to the 2012 finals, while injury-prone playmaker Terry Campese – making his first appearance in almost a year – inspired the Raiders to a 20-16 comeback success after the Vodafone Warriors imploded in the second half of an early-season 2013 encounter in the Australian capital. The Vodafone Warriors halted the three-match losing run against the Raiders in emphatic style, however, racking up a 50-16 score-line in the death throes of 2013.

 

Round 25, 2013 – Rampant Vodafone Warriors feast on embattled Raiders

The Vodafone Warriors and Raiders approached their late-season encounter at Mt Smart as mathematical finals chances, but Canberra’s recent off-field ructions – including the sacking of coach David Furner and troubled three-quarter star Blake Ferguson going AWOL – rendered it a particularly arduous road trip.

The Raiders had a 12-6 lead after 23 minutes against the run of play thanks to a rapid double to points-hungry centre Jarrod Croker.

The momentum swung in a pulsating nine-minute burst, however, as giant winger Manu Vatuvei ran in a devastating hat-trick to send the Warriors to the sheds as 20-12 leaders.

The consecutive try-scoring continued after the break, with quicksilver Vodafone Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson, who finished with 26 points, bagging a brilliant treble in the space of just six minutes – later confirmed as a world record.

The home side added two more outstanding tries to reach the half-century mark in a memorable afternoon for the Auckland faithful, while Croker completed a consolation hat-trick in the latter stages.

The Vodafone Warriors obliterated the Raiders in twin maulings in 2014. Johnson scored another 26 points in a 54-12 drubbing at Eden Park in round nine as the halfback and Manu Vatuvei picked up two tries apiece.

Despite the absence of linchpin Johnson for their Canberra road trip in round 21, the Vodafone Warriors posted 10 tries in a 54-18 pounding, with Vatuvei scoring another hat-trick – taking his tally to 14 tries in just 11 games against the Raiders. The Vodafone Warriors’ Canberra Stadium curse had been exorcised in emphatic fashion.

In 2015, they extended their fruitful run to a record five-match winning streak over the Raiders with a hard-fought 18-6 win in Canberra and a 30-8 romp featuring a Tuimoala Lolohea double at home.

The Green Machine ended the drought in 2016, however, with Jarrod Cronker (18 points) again having a field day in a 38-12 win in an historic clash at New Plymouth’s Yarrow Stadium. The clubs turned on an extraordinary encounter at GIO Stadium later that season.

 

Round 20, 2016 – Vodafone Warriors’ comeback falls short in golden point

High-flying Canberra seemed certain to chalk up an emphatic victory over the visiting Vodafone Warriors after surging to a 22-4 lead with just over 10 minutes of its round 20 clash remaining.

But the Vodafone Warriors set up a grandstand finish when standoff Thomas Leuluai slipped over for two tries in less than three minutes.

A sensational dive for the corner saw David Fusitu’a trim the gap to just two points and Issac Luke stepped up to land the levelling conversion as the siren sounded.

The miraculous revival came unstuck, however, when Raiders captain Jarrod Croker crossed for his third try just a minute into golden point.

When the Vodafone Warriors and Canberra met in round seven this season, the Raiders held on to take out a tough encounter 29-0 at GIO Stadium.

 

Played for both clubs

Sean Hoppe: A wing sensation after being snapped up by the Raiders in 1992, Hoppe scored 22 tries in 39 games and quickly cemented a Test spot on the Kiwis’ flank. But after signing on for the Auckland Warriors’ maiden season, he was dumped by the Raiders and forced to spend 1994 with Norths, where he enjoyed a fine season before returning to Auckland. Hoppe scored 19 tries and was named Dally M Winger of the Year in 1995 but his form gradually tailed off before he left for a term with St Helens in the English Super League at the end of 1999. He scored 44 tries in 88 games for the Auckland Warriors.

Phil Blake: The wonderfully gifted Blake has a place in the Warriors’ history as the first player to score a try for the club in the opening night against Brisbane in 1995. He finished his career with 37 games for the Warriors, one of six clubs he appeared for during his 265-match career. He had a one-season stay with Canberra in 1992, playing 16 matches.

Quentin Pongia: West Coast product Pongia arrived at Canberra via Canterbury in 1993 after making his Test debut the previous season. A vital component of the Raiders’ ’94 premiership side, the front-rower’s subsequent campaigns were frequently stymied by suspensions. He joined the Warriors in 1998 – a stint that lasted just one season – before enduring familiar judiciary woes with the Roosters.

Jason Death: A product of Young (NSW), Death was Steve Walters’ hooker understudy at Canberra and also a handy option at loose forward, playing 57 games from 1991-95. After three seasons with the Cowboys, Death linked with the Vodafone Warriors in 1999. His three-season stay encompassed 55 games, the club’s player of the year award in 2000, a key role in the Vodafone Warriors’ maiden finals appearance in ’01 and a fan section at Mt Smart Stadium dedicated to him: ‘Death Row’. Death wound up a 201-game career with three seasons at South Sydney.

Anthony Swann: Classy centre Anthony Swann played 36 games for the Warriors from 1996-98, playing one Test for the Kiwis against Great Britain in ’96. He spent a year at North Sydney, before playing 19 games in two seasons with Canberra and representing Samoa at the 2000 World Cup.

Odell Manuel: Powerhouse winger Manuel scored 13 tries in 39 games for the Vodafone Warriors in 1999-2000, but linked with Canberra after representing New Zealand Maori at the 2000 World Cup. The move garnered 19 NRL appearances in two seasons, while he later became a champion power-lifter.

Justin Morgan: Handy front rower Morgan played 83 games for Parramatta from 1994-1999 before spending a season with Canberra and making 22 first grade appearances. The skilful bookend played 28 games for the Vodafone Warriors in 2001-02. Moving into coaching – including a five-season stint at the helm of Hull Kingston Rovers – Morgan returned to Auckland as Andrew McFadden’s assistant for the 2016 season.

Tyran Smith: Originally a winger, Kiwi Test forward Smith arrived at the Warriors in 1998 via stints at Souths, North Queensland and Hunter Mariners. He played 10 games for the Auckland club before playing for Balmain and Wests Tigers and ended a colourful 188-game career with four seasons for Canberra (2002-2005). 

Ruben Wiki: A key figure in Canberra’s 1994 premiership triumph with 15 tries alongside Mal Meninga in the centres, Wiki emerged from a contract squabble with the fledgling Auckland Warriors to play 225 games for the Raiders over 12 seasons, moving into the forward pack in the late-1990s. One of the NRL’s genuine enforcers, he belatedly linked with the Vodafone Warriors in 2005, playing 87 games in four memorable seasons and becoming the first and still only New Zealander to reach the 300-game mark in the competition. Wiki played a then-world record 55 Tests for the Kiwis and remains at the Vodafone Warriors as a trainer.

Sione Faumuina: Versatile and supremely skilled, Faumuina was a 19-year-old debutant for Canberra in 2001 before returning home to Auckland the following season. Predominantly a back rower, he played two Tests for the Kiwis at standoff against Australia and made 88 appearances for the Vodafone Warriors in five seasons. Off-field issues plagued his career, which wound down with stints at Hull, North Queensland and Castleford.

Bill Tupou: A promising wing prospect in 62 games (scoring 19 tries) for the Vodafone Warriors, including a grand final appearance in 2011, Tupou was snapped up by Canberra midway through 2013. He struggled to nail down a permanent spot with the Raiders, playing just 14 games in two and a half seasons.

Shaun Berrigan: A Queensland Origin half, an Australian Test centre and a Clive Churchill Medal-winning hooker, Berrigan carved out a legacy as one of the greatest utilities of all-time in a 186-game tenure with Brisbane from 1999-2007. After three seasons with Hull FC, the veteran of 15 Origins and 14 Tests joined the Vodafone Warriors in 2011, featuring at centre and hooker in 19 games but missing the club’s finals campaign. Berrigan joined Canberra the following year and finished a decorated career with 36 appearances in two seasons.

Matt Allwood: Scone-born centre Allwood’s 11-game rookie campaign for the Raiders in 2014 piqued the interest of the Vodafone Warriors, who snapped him up for the following season. Allwood has scored four tries in seven NRL appearances for the Vodafone Warriors to date, and continues to be a consistent performer for the club’s ISP outfit.

 

Coached both clubs

Matthew Elliott: Former St George forward and successful Bradford coach Elliott succeeded Mal Meninga at the helm of the Raiders in 2002 and steered the club to four finals series in five years, although he did not win a post-season match. A largely disappointing five-season stint at Penrith ended prematurely in 2011 before he became the surprise choice as the Vodafone Warriors’ new mentor in 2013. A unique and likable character, Elliott’s charges finished 11th in his first season in Auckland but he stepped down five rounds into 2014 following a rocky start to the year. 

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