While the Vodafone Warriors are using their bye week to build towards their 16th-round encounter with Canterbury-Bankstown on June 23, another long haul to Perth is rapidly coming into view.
For the sixth season on end, they face an NRL game in Western Australia when they take on Manly at nib Stadium on Saturday, July 1 (3.30pm kick-off local time; 7.30pm NZT).
The NRL has a history of taking games to rugby league outposts like Darwin, Mudgee, Adelaide, Mackay and more but the Vodafone Warriors’ trip to Perth is emphatically the longest haul for any club in the competition.
While travel is routine rather than rare for the Vodafone Warriors, this game takes them to the NRL’s most far-flung venue.
It’s a seven-and-a-half hour, 5340km flight with the accompanying challenge of the time difference (four hours behind New Zealand) but it brings the bonus of significant support from relocated Kiwis who have a track record for turning out in big numbers to see the Vodafone Warriors (statistics indicate more than 70,000 ex-pat New Zealanders live in Perth).
While horrendous weather severely impacted the turnout when the Vodafone Warriors and Sea Eagles met at nib Stadium last year, 20,000-plus crowds – predominantly of a Vodafone Warriors persuasion – were in hand for the previous four fixtures.
Despite the conditions and the reduced attendance, last year’s contest became one of epic proportions, the teams level at 14-14 after 80 minutes before Daly Cherry-Evans clinched victory for Manly with a golden point field goal.
Perth first became a destination for the Auckland Warriors in 1996 and again in 1997 when they played at the WACA both times losing 12-24 and 12-32.
It was eight years before the Vodafone Warriors returned for a one-off encounter with Cronulla in 2005. While results haven’t worked in the Auckland team’s favour, there have been some remarkable finishes, this being one of them when the Sharks scored a last-minute try to win 28-24.
The next visit wasn’t until 2012, the first of six trips in consecutive season.
Manly was the ‘home’ side for a match-up at Patersons Stadium (Subiaco Oval) in 2012, a crowd of 20,095 in attendance to see the Sea Eagles steal a dramatic late 24-22 win after the Vodafone Warriors had led for much of the contest.
The next three years the Vodafone Warriors made the long trek to take on South Sydney, the encounters drawing crowds of 20,221 (2013), 20,267 (2014) and 20,727 (2015). The Rabbitohs won 30-13, 34-18 and 36-4 during an era when they were one of the competition’s top performers, peaking with their premiership success in 2014.
Manly resumed its association with Perth last season.