The Vodafone Warriors are one of the few current teams to have crafted a winning record against the Sydney Roosters. While the Tricolours ultimately proved too strong when the Auckland-based club qualified for its first grand final appearance in 2002, the teams have produced many outstanding clashes since their first in 1995. The Roosters’ usually strong Kiwi contingent has also given the rivalry an extra edge.
Will Evans looks back.
Overall record: Played 37 – Vodafone Warriors won 20, Sydney Roosters won 16, draws 1; Sydney Roosters scored 864 points, Vodafone Warriors scored 698 points.
Biggest wins: Sydney Roosters – 58-6 at Sydney Football Stadium, 2004; Vodafone Warriors – 42-16 at Mt Smart Stadium, 2006.
Longest winning streaks: Vodafone Warriors – 5 matches (2008-11); Sydney Roosters – 3 matches (2004-05).
Finals: Played 2 – Sydney Roosters won 1, Vodafone Warriors won 1.
Grand Finals: Played 1 – Sydney Roosters won 1.
Most appearances: Anthony Minichiello (Sydney Roosters) – 20; Simon Mannering (Vodafone Warriors) – 19; Stacey Jones (Vodafone Warriors) – 18; Luke Ricketson (Sydney Roosters) – 17; Craig Fitzgibbon (Sydney Roosters) – 16; Manu Vatuvei (Vodafone Warriors) – 16.
Most tries: Manu Vatuvei (Vodafone Warriors) – 12; Shaun Kenny-Dowall (Sydney Roosters) – 12; Anthony Minichiello (Sydney Roosters) – 9; Jerome Ropati (Vodafone Warriors) – 8.
Most points: Craig Fitzgibbon (Sydney Roosters) – 112; James Maloney (Vodafone Warriors and Sydney Roosters) – 71; Stacey Jones (Vodafone Warriors) – 56; Manu Vatuvei (Vodafone Warriors) – 48; Shaun Kenny-Dowall (Sydney Roosters) – 48; Shaun Johnson (Vodafone Warriors) – 46; Braith Anasta (Sydney Roosters) – 44; Ivan Cleary (Sydney Roosters and Warriors) – 44.
1995-2002 – Warriors with the edge
The rebranded Sydney City Roosters had spent big and were beginning their climb back to respectability when the Auckland Warriors joined the premiership in 1995. Their first visit across the Tasman resulted in a 22-26 loss after they had led the Warriors 12-0 during the first half, while both sides ultimately finished tied with North Sydney for eighth spot but missed the finals on for-and-against.
The clubs traded wins for several seasons, neither side able to piece together consecutive victories despite the Roosters’ newfound heavyweight status and the Warriors’ struggles. The Vodafone Warriors prevailed 26-16 in the opening round of 1999 in a fiery match that saw Ali Lauitiiti sent off for a high tackle and Brad Fittler marched while Andrew Walker and Tony Tuimavave were sin-binned for their roles in the ensuing wild brawl. In the year they reached the finals for the first time (2001), the Vodafone Warriors downed the Roosters – grand finalists a year earlier – at home and away in the regular season before notching a third straight win early in 2002.
2002-05 – Roosters rampant
The in-form Roosters walloped the Vodafone Warriors 44-0 in round 24 of the 2002 season but the Aucklanders nevertheless finished as minor premiers a fortnight later with the Tricolours in fourth. The big, physical sides came together in the grand final after gripping preliminary final successes respectively.
Grand final, 2002 – Roosters win with second half surge
The Sydney Roosters’ composure and aggressive defence were the catalysts for an ultimately convincing grand final victory over the Vodafone Warriors, prevailing 30-8 to secure the club’s first premiership in 27 years. After a tense, see-sawing first quarter, Shannon Hegarty finished off a 70-metre movement to put the Roosters on the board in the 23rd minute, backing up a sideline break by Brett Mullins. The Vodafone Warriors kicked a penalty to narrow the halftime score to 6-2 and grabbed the lead six minutes after the break when Stacey Jones scored one of the great individual tries, a spellbinding 40-metre effort that left a string off Roosters defenders in his wake. Brad Fittler swung the momentum with a 40-20 kick before putting Craig Wing over in the 57th minute. A questionable hit by Vodafone Warriors enforcer Richard Villasanti on a prone Fittler left the Roosters skipper dazed and bloodied but it sparked the Tricolours into action again. Adrian Morley and Peter Cusack reeled off punishing tackles on Villasanti soon afterwards before Craig Fitzgibbon scored to give the Roosters an 18-8 lead with 16 minutes to go. The Vodafone Warriors’ resolve had been broken and bench forwards Chris Flannery and Bryan Fletcher went over to complete an emphatic triumph.
The teams had to wait until the penultimate round of 2003 for the grand final rematch and it was a cracking contest that had big ramifications on the finals picture. The lead changed hands six times at the SFS before a try by Vodafone Warriors winger Francis Meli levelled the scores two minutes from fulltime and Brent Webb’s conversion sealed a 26-24 victory. The result gave the Vodafone Warriors a stranglehold on sixth spot, while it cost the Roosters the minor premiership; both sides’ title aspirations were eventually thwarted by Penrith.
The Vodafone Warriors battled on and off the paddock in 2004, their season reaching a harrowing flashpoint after being belted 58-6 by the Roosters. Coach Daniel Anderson, who had led the Vodafone Warriors to unprecedented success over the previous three seasons, stepped down in the wake of the loss. The Roosters overturned a 12-0 scoreline to down the Vodafone Warriors 30-24 late in the season in a match perhaps best remembered for Awen Guttenbeil’s monster hit on Roosters forward Ned Catic, after which the Vodafone Warriors back rower slapped Catic on the chest and screamed in his face.
2005-11 – Vodafone Warriors ruffle feathers
After a low-scoring loss early in 2005, the Vodafone Warriors lost just one of their next 10 matches against the Roosters. The run of success began with a remarkable comeback at the SFS, overhauling a 14-point deficit with 20 minutes left to win 24-22 – a character-filled win after the Vodafone Warriors had three tries contentiously disallowed earlier on. Jerome Ropati scored four tries in a resounding 42-16 win late in 2006.
Round 21, 2007 – Classic draw hailed as one of the greatest matches ever
The resurgent Sydney Roosters and the finals-bound Vodafone Warriors fought out a golden point draw that was heralded as one of the modern era’s greatest matches at the SFS. The Vodafone Warriors fought back from 0-16 down to lead 18-16 at halftime and had charged to a 30-18 advantage by the time their centre Simon Mannering was controversially sin-binned. The Roosters scored twice to level the scores while the Vodafone Warriors were a man short before Braith Anasta nailed a 38-metre field goal to nudge the home side in front in the dying minutes. But the Vodafone Warriors regained possession from a one-on-one strip and five-eighth Michael Witt landed an equalising one-pointer with 17 seconds on the clock. The frantic, thrilling golden point period failed to produce a scorer and the classic encounter fittingly finished 31-all. The accolades flowed for the Vodafone Warriors and the Roosters in the wake of the rivals’ extraordinary draw. Immortal Bob Fulton and Roosters supremo Nick Politis each described the game as one of the finest modern-day contests – a statement free of hyperbole that was echoed by virtually everyone that witnessed the 90-minute rugby league masterpiece.
Shaun Kenny-Dowall, one of four future or current Kiwi internationals in the Roosters side, scored a hat-trick in a 38-12 victory midway through 2008 but the Vodafone Warriors turned the tables during the finals.
Semi-Final, 2008 – Vodafone Warriors’ finals charge gains momentum
The eighth-placed Vodafone Warriors followed up their history-making qualifying final defeat of Melbourne by claiming another top-four scalp, eliminating the Sydney Roosters with a 30-13 victory at Mt Smart. The Roosters led 13-6 at halftime after Anthony Minichiello was awarded a controversial penalty after opposing fullback Lance Hohaia – who scored the first try of the match – grabbed at his arm during an in-goal chase for the ball. The Vodafone Warriors rallied admirably, Hohaia gaining quick redemption with his second touchdown five minutes into the second half. Superb close-range tries to Ian Henderson and Manu Vatuvei were followed by an 80-metre intercept effort by winger Aidan Kirk to seal the rousing win and a preliminary final berth.
Round 16, 2010 – Courageous Locke plucks Roosters
In rainy, freezing conditions at Christchurch’s AMI Stadium, the Sydney Roosters led the Vodafone Warriors 18-8 with five minutes to go but a powerhouse try to Manu Vatuvei kept the Vodafone Warriors hopes’ alive. Young winger Kevin Locke had already scored a memorable first half double, and toed a Lance Hohaia grubber kick ahead from near halfway in the final minute of play. Displaying electrifying pace, Locke narrowly won the race to the ball ahead of Roosters speedster Phil Graham and planted the ball as his torso was simultaneously bent around the goalpost. Replays showed Locke had successfully scored the gutsy leveller, while James Maloney added the simple conversion after the siren to win a thrilling encounter 20-18. Locke’s bravery cost him two weeks in the injury ward but earned a place in club folklore.
2011-14 – High-quality showdowns as Roosters claw back
The Roosters broke a five-match losing streak – and a seven-year drought at the SFS – with a 13-6 win midway through 2011. The clubs chalked up a win apiece in both of the 2012-13 seasons. In the latter season, Roosters recruit Sonny Bill Williams (one of six Kiwis in their line-up) returned to Eden Park just 18 months after playing in the All Blacks’ World Cup final victory there and featured in a 16-14 win. The Vodafone Warriors clawed back from 0-16 down in the round two clash but Shaun Johnson, who kick-started a comeback with a 90-metre try, missed a late conversion that could have sent the match into golden point.
The Vodafone Warriors scored a stunning 23-12 victory over the high-flying Roosters in Sydney three months later, holding the dangerous Tricolours – who snapped up Vodafone Warriors playmaker James Maloney in the off-season – scoreless after the break to overturn a 12-10 halftime deficit in a match laced with unforgettable moments: Johnson’s incredible chase and tackle on a runaway Michael Jennings; Williams’ tackle-busting runs and phenomenal offloads that turned a 10-point deficit after 35 minutes into a halftime lead; fullback Glen Fisiiahi’s 90-metre try and remarkable try-saving strip on Kenny-Dowall; and long-striding Manu Vatuvei’s brilliant 95-metre runaway try to seal the result.
The Vodafone Warriors’ finals aspirations suffered a savage blow the following season when they hosted the Roosters in round 24, though, putting in one of their worst performances of the year in being crushed 46-12 by the rampant defending premiers.
The Roosters snatched a 25-21 win at Mt Smart in 2015. Johnson had levelled the scores with a 77th-minute field goal but Blake Ferguson crossed in the corner with less than a minute to go. The Vodafone Warriors went on a three-match winning streak following that heartbreaker before meeting the Roosters again in Sydney, but they were subdued 24-0 by the eventual minor premiers.
Gun fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck switched from the Roosters to the Vodafone Warriors ahead of the 2016 season and came back to haunt his old club with a sizzling golden point try – set up by Tuimoala Lolohea – to steal a 32-28 win in Gosford. Back on home soil (and with RTS in the casualty ward) the Vodafone Warriors grafted out a 12-10 win over the Tricolours 10 weeks later to secure two wins in a season in the rivalry for the first time since 2009.
PLAYED FOR BOTH CLUBS
Dean Bell: The Auckland Warriors’ foundation captain had three stints with the Roosters – in the days when they were known as Eastern Suburbs or Easts – in the mid-1980s before and during his much-decorated career with Wigan. He had 17 games for Easts in 1985 and returned for two more spells in 1986 and 1988 (40 games in total) before finishing his playing days with 19 games for the Warriors in 1995.
Quentin Pongia: Canberra premiership winner and New Zealand Test stalwart Pongia joined the Warriors in 1998, playing six Tests against Australia and Great Britain (captaining his country in four of them) that year, but he linked with the Roosters in ’99. Pongia’s atrocious judiciary record and subsequent injuries meant he played just 43 games in three seasons at Bondi, though he did extend his international record to 34 appearances.
Terry Hermansson: Canterbury (NZ) prop Hermansson carved out a fine career after debuting for South Sydney as a 25-year-old in 1993. He made his Kiwi Test debut a year later before playing 66 games for the Roosters from 1995-97. After another one-year stint with the Rabbitohs, the front-row strongman joined the Vodafone Warriors and played 39 games for the club in 1999-2000.
John Simon: Illawarra and NSW Origin half Simon was a big-money recruit for the Roosters in 1996, but the presence of Adrian Lam saw him leave to join Parramatta in 1997. Simon linked with the Vodafone Warriors midway through 1999 – captaining the club in just his second appearance – and played 32 games before finishing his career at Wests Tigers in 2001.
Robert Mears: Wholehearted hooker Mears began his career with the Roosters, playing 10 games in first grade from 1994-96. After two seasons at Canterbury, Mears enjoyed a breakout season with the Warriors in 1999 and won the club’s player of the year award in 2000. After 40 games for the Warriors, Mears linked with Wests Tigers for a three-season stay.
Nathan Wood: Diminutive but incredibly versatile, former Balmain utility Wood played 78 games for the Roosters from 1995-2000. Best suited to the halves or hooker, Wood played 17 games for the Vodafone Warriors in 2001 – including the club’s finals debut against Parramatta – before rounding out his career in Super League.
Ivan Cleary: An outstanding fullback/centre, Cleary was also one of the game’s ace goalkickers. Following strong stints with Manly and Norths, he spent four seasons with the Roosters (1996-99) and broke the all-time season points-scoring record with 284 points in ’98. Cleary was an outstanding buy for the Vodafone Warriors after an injury-plagued initial 2000 season, scoring a club record 242 points in ’02. He retired after their grand final loss to the Roosters that year. After a successful grounding as a coach in the Roosters’ lower grades, Cleary took over the Vodafone Warriors’ NRL post in 2006, taking the club to the 2011 grand final before being poached by Penrith.
Todd Byrne: ‘Skinny’ Byrne is predominantly remembered for being run down by Penrith’s Scott Sattler in the 2003 grand final but he gave good service to the Roosters in 62 games from 2001-04. Linking with the Vodafone Warriors, the slender three-quarter scored 21 tries in 43 games across three seasons.
Vince Mellars: Wellington-born centre Mellars played seven games for the Vodafone Warriors in 2003-04 before linking with Cronulla. He subsequently joined the Roosters and played a career-high 12 games in 2006 but was not sighted in the NRL thereafter and later resurfaced in Super League in 2010.
Ian Henderson: Hooker Henderson began his NRL career with seven games for the Roosters in 2003-04. After stints with Parramatta and Bradford, he joined the Vodafone Warriors for a colourful three-season stay that garnered 65 games and a Scotland debut. Henderson returned to Super League in 2011 but later came full circle by joining the Roosters in 2016 where his career came to an end courtesy of a broken leg after two games.
James Maloney: Dynamic half Maloney debuted for Melbourne but was a virtual unknown when he joined the Vodafone Warriors in 2010. He made a monumental impact as an ultra-competitive playmaker and clutch goalkicker, helping spearhead the club’s drive to the 2011 grand final. He moved to Bondi Junction in 2013 and was outstanding in the Roosters’ premiership triumph, scoring 252 points and starring in the grand final victory. Maloney repeated the dose after joining Cronulla in 2016, steering the club to its first title.
Sio Siua Taukeiaho: A member of the Vodafone Warriors’ 2011 NYC grand final victory, the Otara Scorpions junior made a solitary first grade appearance for the Vodafone Warriors in 2013. The dynamic forward was snapped up by the Roosters and will make his 50th appearance for the club back in his hometown this weekend, while he made Test debuts for Tonga and New Zealand in 2015.
Suaia Matagi: Rock-hard prop Matagi became a cult hero at Mt Smart after overcoming a troubled background to debut for the Vodafone Warriors as a 25-year-old in 2015. Matagi played 36 games for the club before joining the Roosters midway through 2015 and making seven appearances. A Samoa and Kiwi Test rep, Matagi has enjoyed stints at Penrith and Parramatta since.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck: Otahuhu junior Tuivasa-Sheck emerged through the grades with the Roosters and became an instant sensation after being handed an NRL debut as a 19-year-old in 2012. A winger in the Roosters’ 2013 grand final win, RTS took over from club legend Anthony Minichiello at fullback in 2015 but joined the Vodafone Warriors at the end of that season after 84 games in the Tricolours. The 11-Test Kiwi’s first season with the Vodafone Warriors was cut short by injury after just seven games but he was installed as the club’s new captain ahead of the 2017 campaign.