Sunday’s showdown will be the 37th between the Vodafone Warriors and the Newcastle Knights and the 21st at Mount Smart Stadium.
Will Evans looks back at the rivalry.
VODAFONE WARRIORS v NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS (1995-2016)
The Vodafone Warriors were largely at the mercy of the mercurial Andrew Johns during the first decade of their rivalry with Knights, but they have turned the tables on the Novacastrians over the past 11 seasons to take a narrow overall lead.
Overall record: Played 36 – Vodafone Warriors won 18, Newcastle won 17, draws 1; Vodafone Warriors scored 855 points, Newcastle scored 817 points.
Biggest wins: Vodafone Warriors – 52-10 at Mt Smart Stadium, 2007; Newcastle – 48-6 at Marathon Stadium, 1995.
Longest winning streaks: Vodafone Warriors – 5 matches (2009-11); Newcastle – 4 matches (twice – 1995-98 and 2000-02).
Most appearances: Simon Mannering (Vodafone Warriors) – 20; Manu Vatuvei (Vodafone Warriors) – 19; Danny Buderus (Newcastle) – 17; Kurt Gidley (Newcastle) – 17; Steve Simpson (Newcastle) – 16; Jarrod Mullen (Newcastle) – 15; Matt Gidley (Newcastle) – 14; Andrew Johns (Newcastle) – 14; Stacey Jones (Vodafone Warriors) – 14; Ben Matulino (Vodafone Warriors) – 14.
Most tries: Manu Vatuvei (Vodafone Warriors) – 19; Adam MacDougall (Newcastle) – 13; Andrew Johns (Newcastle) – 9; James McManus (Newcastle) – 8; Timana Tahu (Newcastle) – 8; Clinton Toopi (Vodafone Warriors) – 8.
Most points: Andrew Johns (Newcastle) – 155; Kurt Gidley (Newcastle) – 76; Manu Vatuvei (Vodafone Warriors) – 76; Shaun Johnson (Vodafone Warriors) – 62; Adam MacDougall (Newcastle) – 52; James Maloney (Warriors) – 46.
1995-2004 – ‘Joey’ schools Auckland Warriors
The teething problems the fledgling Auckland Warriors had with making the trek across the Tasman every fortnight were never better exemplified than during their maiden visit to Newcastle. A baying 22,136-strong Marathon Stadium crowd watched the Knights romp to a 48-6 win in the round nine clash, after leading 18-0 at the break.
Centre Nathan Barnes scored a hat-trick, while sophomore halfback Andrew Johns booted nine goals as Newcastle racked up a club record ninth straight win. Fullback Phil Blake scored the Warriors’ only try, his 11th in nine games. It was the third time in four away games the Warriors had conceded 40 points, while the Hunter humiliation remained the Warriors’ biggest loss until 2000.
A John Kirwan double wasn’t enough to thwart the Knights on their initial voyage to Auckland, with winger Keith Beauchamp’s two tries helping the visitors to a 22-18 win. The clubs were on opposite sides of the Super League-ARL divide in 1997, but when they reunited under the NRL banner in 1998, the Knights powered to a 33-4 home victory in Round 2 that saw each of the back five cross for a try.
The teams met again just five weeks later at Mt Smart, but the Johns brothers, Andrew and Matthew, orchestrated a 38-14 success over a Warriors side that had eight players backing up from the Kiwis’ Anzac Test triumph just two days earlier.
Round 25, 1999 – Brilliant Warriors finish season with a flourish
After conceding 141 points and scoring just 42 in their first four clashes with Newcastle, the Vodafone Warriors flipped the script on the finals-bound Knights with a 42-0 shut-out on a wet evening at Mt Smart. While well out of top-eight contention, the Mark Graham-coached side produced one of the best wins in the club’s five-season history to run in seven tries and keep its own line intact. Standoff John Simon was magnificent, as were fellow Aussie expats, hooker Robert Mears and loose forward Jason Death, while fullback Matthew Ridge scored 18 points in what ultimately proved to be his last game in Auckland. The result marked the first time the Warriors had held an opponent scoreless.
Despite the resounding breakthrough, Newcastle would resume control of the rivalry for another five seasons. The club drew 18-all at Mt Smart early in 2000 after Andrew Johns converted a last-minute Bill Peden try, while the Knights won seven of the next eight encounters.
Widely regarded as the world’s best player, Andrew Johns toyed with the Vodafone Warriors at home in 2001, setting a new club record with 29 points from three tries, eight goals and a field goal in a 45-24 win for the eventual NRL premiers. Johns, in conjunction with another rep star, kept the points flowing at the Vodafone Warriors’ expense later that season.
Round 20, 2001 – ‘Mad Dog’ stings Warriors in high-scoring thriller
The Vodafone Warriors confirmed their status as genuine finals contenders but the high-flying Knights maintained their dominant record over the Auckland-based club in an entertaining try-fest at Mt Smart Stadium. The lead changed hands five times in the 37-30 result, with Andrew Johns contributing 17 points and powerhouse winger Adam MacDougall scoring a club-record equalling four tries. ‘Mad Dog’ bagged a first-half hat-trick before crossing for the match-sealing try in the final minute of an absorbing clash.
The Vodafone Warriors took advantage of an Origin-depleted Knights side to chalk up their first win in five visits to Newcastle midway through 2002, with Clinton Toopi scoring a double in a 34-12 win. But the Knights resumed control of the rivalry again by winning three straight games in 2003-04, taking their record to 11 wins and a draw in 14 games against the Warriors.
2005-11 – Vodafone Warriors turn the tables
Since 2005, the Vodafone Warriors have won 16 of 22 encounters between the clubs – including 10 of 12 at Mt Smart Stadium.
Round 6, 2005 – A comeback for the ages
In blazing sunshine at Newcastle’s EnergyAustralia Stadium, the Knights racked up an imposing 20-0 lead over the Vodafone Warriors and appeared on course for a convincing win. The visitors slowly clawed their way back, however, and their momentum became unstoppable when Newcastle captain Andrew Johns left the field with a cracked jaw 15 minutes from fulltime. The score was 26-16 at the time, but Johns’ great rival Stacey Jones stepped into overdrive to conjure three tries for the Vodafone Warriors. The final touchdown, to powerhouse winger Francis Meli, came in the final minute after a movement that originated deep inside Vodafone Warriors territory. The 30-26 escape act was fondly remembered by Vodafone Warriors fans: highlights of the match were regularly shown as a filler between programmes on SKY Sports for years to come.
Making just his eighth NRL appearance in that astounding comeback – which remains the biggest in the Vodafone Warriors’ history – winger Manu Vatuvei grabbed his first career double in a performance that gave the Knights a taste of what was to come. ‘The Beast’ has scored 19 tries in 19 appearances against Newcastle – the most he has scored against any club – including the Vodafone Warriors’ only try in a 4-16 loss at home later in 2005.
Despite finishing outside the finals picture while Newcastle reached the top-four, the Vodafone Warriors won both games between the clubs in 2006, a feat that marked the club’s first back-to-back successes against the Knights.
The rivals shared the spoils in 2007 but the Vodafone Warriors enjoyed bragging rights with a 52-10 pummelling late in the regular season on their way to just the second top-four finish in their history, with Wade McKinnon, Jerome Ropati and Grant Rovelli scoring doubles, and Michael Witt slotting eight goals.
The sides again won one game apiece in 2008, but the Vodafone Warriors edged the Knights for eighth spot at the end of the season; after the Knights went down to the Broncos in a Friday night clash in Round 26, the Vodafone Warriors leapfrogged them with a victory over Parramatta.
The Vodafone Warriors’ 13-0 shutout – after protecting a 6-0 lead for three-quarters of the match – midway through 2009 kicked off a five-match winning streak against the Knights, with Vatuvei scoring a total of five tries in two 2010 encounters. With their 25-16 away victory in 2011, the Vodafone Warriors achieved consecutive wins in Newcastle for the first time.
2012-15 – Knights play spoiler role
Clashes between the Vodafone Warriors and Knights over the ensuing four seasons invoke painful memories for fans of the former.
Round 20, 2012 – Knights make sleepy Vodafone Warriors pay
The Vodafone Warriors’ 2012 campaign began to unravel when they inexplicably let an 18-point lead slip against unfancied Newcastle at Mt Smart. The hosts led 18-0 in even time with Shaun Johnson and Feleti Mateo starting the match on fire but Knights wingers Akuila Uate and Kevin Naiqama trimmed the deficit to just seven points by halftime. Uate bombed a try just after the break when he dropped the ball over the line, but long-range tries to Timana Tahu and Dane Gagai sealed a gut-wrenching 24-19 defeat. A week later the Vodafone Warriors became the first team in history to give up 18-point leads in consecutive games when they repeated the dose against Manly, while they extended their losing streak to eight matches by the end of the season to finish well outside finals reckoning.
The Vodafone Warriors won their sole encounter with Newcastle in 2013, while Simon Mannering marked his 200th game for the club – and 100th as captain – with a double in a 38-12 romp over the Knights midway through the following season. However, a round 23 loss at Hunter Stadium would ultimately prove pivotal to the Vodafone Warriors missing the 2014 finals.
The Knights prevailed 28-22 in a wildly fluctuating game that saw the four wingers score eight of the 10 tries – and produce some of the most gravity-defying finishes of the season. Vatuvei and Vodafone Warriors rookie David Fusitu’a scored doubles, while 18-year-old Knights flyer Sione Mata’utia nabbed a sensational hat-trick and older brother Chanel also dotted down. Chad Townsend’s one-from-five kicking display was crucial after both sides posted five tries. The Vodafone Warriors went on to miss the finals on for-and-against.
The Vodafone Warriors endured more misery on the road courtesy of a disappointing 14-24 loss to Newcastle in the opening round of the 2015 season as the Knights chalked up back-to-back wins in the rivalry for the first time since 2004.
2015-16 – Taking advantage of Knights’ decline
The Vodafone Warriors ended the Knights’ two-game winning streak with a patchy 24-20 result against the eventual 2015 wooden spooners at Mt Smart. For the second time in three games between the clubs, all four wingers crossed for tries; on this occasion it was Vatuvei, Jonathan Wright (Vodafone Warriors), James McManus and Uate (Knights), with the latter scoring two touchdowns.
The Knights managed just one win in a trying 2016 campaign, and the Vodafone Warriors took full toll by racking up 90 points in the two games against them. After losing their first three games of the season, the Vodafone Warriors powered to a Solomone Kata-inspired 40-18 win on Easter Monday.
Round 14, 2016 – Flying Fusitu’a carves up hosts
The Vodafone Warriors’ mid-season revival began to gather momentum at the expense of the hapless Newcastle Knights, inflicting a 50-14 defeat on the last-placed side at Hunter Stadium. The visitors led just 16-12 at the half-hour mark, but put on the afterburners thereafter to finish nine-tries-to-two winners. David Fusitu’a scored four tries – the seventh Warrior to achieve the feat, and just one short of Francis Meli’s club record – while young prop Albert Vete achieved a career milestone with the first try double of his NRL career.
The Vodafone Warriors host the dual wooden spooners in their opening game of the 2017 NRL premiership, aiming to arrest an eight-year losing streak in round one clashes.
Stacey Jones v Andrew Johns
Jones was named halfback in New Zealand’s Team of the Century in 2007 while Johns received the same honour when Australia announced their Team of the Century a year later – and the pair waged many memorable duels. They both burst onto the premiership scene in the mid-1990s and were regular opponents at club and Test level, though Johns was frequently selected at hooker for the Kangaroos. In matches they directly opposed each at halfback, Johns won 11 games to four, but Jones managed two victories with the Kiwis in the five Tests the modern greats both wore the No.7. A good-natured rivalry with plenty of respect on both sides, Johns claimed his record third Dally M Medal in 2002 but Jones claimed the Newcastle linchpin’s Golden Boot status.
Manu Vatuvei v Akuila Uate
While Vatuvei’s record against the Knights (19 tries in 19 games) is his best against any club, Uate’s strike-rate against the Vodafone Warriors (five tries in nine games) is among his worst returns. The crowd-pleasing wingers are the only players to score over 100 tries for their respective clubs, and they certainly made life difficult for one another defensively in nine encounters, of which ‘The Beast’ finished on the winning side seven times.
They played for both clubs
Tea Ropati: The Otahuhu Leopards junior made two appearances for the Knights in their debut season in 1988. He was with the club as part of the NZRL’s rookie scheme that season before going on to carve out an outstanding career with St Helens in England. He was brought back home as one of the key signings for the Auckland Warriors’ debut season in the Winfield Cup in 1995, scoring a try in the club’s initial match against Brisbane. He went on to play 72 times for the Auckland Warriors before retiring at the end of the 1998 season.
John Carlaw: Central Coast product Carlaw never played first grade for the Knights, but he did feature alongside the likes of Brett Kimmorley in the club’s 1995 reserve grade-winning side before debuting for the short-lived Hunter Mariners two years later. After stints with Melbourne, Balmain and Wests Tigers, the centre/winger played arguably the best football of his career in Auckland in 2002-03, playing 35 games and scoring the late match-winner in the 2002 preliminary final that propelled the Vodafone Warriors into their maiden grand final. The journeyman’s professional career wound up at St George Illawarra in 2004.
Jason Temu: Auckland-born Marist Saints junior Temu arrived at Newcastle via Oldham and Hull FC, playing three first-grade games for the Knights in 1999-2000. After representing Cook Islands at the 2000 World Cup, the rugged prop returned home to link with the Vodafone Warriors and made four appearances in their watershed ’01 campaign.
Cooper Vuna: The Vodafone Warriors’ youngest-ever player at 17 years and 47 days, Vuna played five first-grade games for the club from 2004-06, but his career took off after joining Newcastle midway through ’07. The wing powerhouse scored 35 tries in 54 games from 2007-10, before being lured to rugby union by the Melbourne Rebels. The former Tonga rugby league rep played two Tests for the Wallabies in 2012, and following stints in Japan and England, became a Tongan dual international in 2016.
Jesse Royal: Hamilton-born Royal was a late-blooming prop who played for the Central Falcons in the Bartercard Cup and captained the NZ Residents on tour in Britain in 2003, before arriving in Newcastle via Penrith and making his NRL debut for the Knights in 2007. After 29 appearances for the club, he returned to New Zealand and played 36 games for the Vodafone Warriors in 2009-10
Matt Jobson: South Newcastle junior Jobson was blooded off the bench four times for the powerful Knights in 2001-02, before enjoying a breakout 2003 campaign that garnered 20 appearances in the top flight. The back-rower attracted the interest of the Vodafone Warriors, but he received just two first-grade chances in 2004 and finished up his NRL career with Wests Tigers the following season.
Evarn Tuimavave: A robust and skilful front-rower, Tuimavave was just 18 when he debuted off the bench during the Vodafone Warriors’ 2002 grand final season. He was an intermittent member of the first-grade side in subsequent campaigns, but forged a permanent spot from 2006-08, missing just four games (and appearing in a total of 105 games for the club). Tuimavave played his sole Test for the Kiwis at the 2008 Rugby League World Cup but, after a disappointing follow-up season, he joined the Knights and played 33 games for the club from 2010-12. The Marist and Richmond junior played for Super League club Hull KR in 2013.
Carlos Tuimavave: Evarn’s cousin, versatile back Carlos, was a star of the Vodafone Junior Warriors’ 2010-11 NYC premiership triumphs at standoff and broke through for an NRL debut late in the 2012 campaign. Tuimavave was tried at fullback and centre for the Vodafone Warriors but was unable to forge a regular spot and the Samoa international was snapped up by the Knights in 2015, where he played five games in the No.6 jumper. The 25-year-old Mount Wellington junior currently plays for Super League side Hull FC.
Siuatonga Likiliki: Another graduate of the Vodafone Warriors’ NYC system, Likiliki was just 18 when he played in the centres against eventual grand finalists Parramatta in 2009. It would be his only first-grade appearance for the club, however, and after playing in the Vodafone Junior Warriors’ maiden NYC grand final win in 2010, he joined the Knights and featured in two NRL games in 2011. The Tongan international was named in the 2012 NSW Cup Team of the Year while playing for the Knights and was signed by the Gold Coast Titans in 2014 but could not force his way back into first grade, joining the Burleigh Bears at the end of the year.
Todd Lowrie: Raised in the Hunter region, back rower Lowrie made 57 appearances for the Knights from 2003 to 2006 before spending the next three seasons with the Parramatta Eels. He then linked up with Melbourne when he played 64 times from 2010 to 2012. In 2013 he joined the Vodafone Warriors making 21 appearances before being released on compassionate grounds. He finished his career with 18 games for Brisbane in 2014 (and 202 overall). Lowrie has since returned to Newcastle where he is coaching the Knights’ NYC side.