Foundation players will be thick on the ground for the Vodafone Warriors’ 20th anniversary match against Brisbane at Mount Smart Stadium on Sunday (2.00pm kick-off; match day sponsor: Vodafone).
It’s a rematch of the original Auckland Warriors’ debut in the competition on March 10, 1995, the Dean Bell-captain side captivating the nation on a night not to be forgotten when the Broncos needed an Allan Langer-inspired comeback to escape with a 25-22 win.
While final numbers are yet to be confirmed it’s possible as many as 13 of 1995's 28 foundation players will be at Mount Smart Stadium on Sunday, including nine who played in the opening night match against Brisbane.
Two of those players – captain Dean Bell (#1) and Duane Mann (#9) – work for the Vodafone Warriors while Stephen Kearney (#11) will be in Auckland in his capacity as an assistant coach for the Broncos.
Confirmed to travel from Sydney for the occasion is standoff Gene Ngamu (#6) while back rowers Tony Tuimavave (#13) and Tony Tatupu (#12), prop Gavin Hill (#8) – the first player actually signed by the Auckland Warriors – left wing Whetu Taewa (#5) and interchange utility Tea Ropati (#15) are all in line to attend.
Fullback Phil Blake (#2), the club’s first try-scorer, was among the guests for the 10th anniversary in 2005 but is now based in England coaching in rugby union. Also in England are cult hero Hitro Okesene (#10) and Martin Moana (#17); both played extensively in England after finishing with the Warriors.
The other five players from the first side – Sean Hoppe (#3), Manoa Thompson (#4), Greg Alexander (#7), Se’e Solomona (#14) and Jason Mackie (#16) – are also non-starters for the reunion.
Four of the other 11 players who appeared for the Auckland Warriors in 1995 will be on hand.
Record-holder Stacey Jones (#24), who is now the club’s New South Wales Cup coach, made his debut in the seventh round against Parramatta. Joining him and the rest of the crew will be fellow first-year players Joe Vagana (#18), Logan Edwards (#21) and Mike Dorreen (#25).
The remaining first-year players were Syd Eru (#19), Willie Poching (#20), current Blues rugby union coach Sir John Kirwan (#21), Andy Platt (#23), Richie Blackmore (#26), Frano Botica (#27) and Denis Betts (#28).
On a day when a number of other old boys will also be at the ground, the 1995 originals will be the guests of honour featuring in a number of ways including forming a guard of honour for the 2015 Vodafone Warriors as they run onto the field for the 20th anniversary match.