Exactly 40 years ago today the much-feared Auckland team marked the year’s shortest day with an achievement of monumental proportions when it completed an unprecedented grand slam over Australia, Great Britain and France.
On Friday, the star-studded group of former players will be reunited, many of them for the first time since those heady days.
A 40th reunion weekend has been planned for Friday, Saturday and Sunday starting with the players and their partners being hosted by the Vodafone Warriors for Friday night’s 16th-round NRL clash against Canterbury-Bankstown at Mount Smart Stadium (8.00pm kick-off; match day sponsor: Suzuki).
Emotions are likely to spill over when the team-mates meet at the New Zealand Rugby League Museum before heading up the road for the Vodafone Warriors’ clash against the Bulldogs.
They’ll gather in the Members’ Clubrooms about 6.00pm, several players will make appearances in lounges around the ground and then they’ll assemble at the East Stand tunnel to walk out onto the field alongside the Vodafone Warriors just ahead of kick-off in the NRL game. After being introduced to and saluted by the crowd, the 1977 team will take in the encounter from the upper East Stand.
It was this Auckland team and others of the era which paved the way for the Warriors’ introduction to the Winfield Cup. In the mid-1970s Auckland played against Australian clubs in the midweek Amco Cup competition, starting the conversation about the merits of pushing for inclusion in the old Sydney premiership.
The 1977 grand slam added plenty of fuel to the debate.
Under the guidance of master coach Bill Sorensen, the Aucklanders delivered wins over Australia on June 1 (19-15), Great Britain on June 14 (14-10) and France on June 21 (17-0).
The achievement was all the more exceptional because it contrasted with the Kiwis’ uninspiring efforts in their World Championship matches against the visiting teams just days earlier with many of the Auckland players backing up from those Test matches.
After the Kiwis had lost 12-27 to Australia at Carlaw Park on May 29, Auckland – with five players backing up from the Test – provided thrills aplenty in beating the Kangaroos 19-15 on the same ground three days later.
On June 12, the Kiwis were abject in a 12-30 defeat by Great Britain in Christchurch but seven of the Kiwi side then fronted ancd excelled 48 hours later to help Auckland beat the Brits 14-10 at the beloved Carlaw Park.
And while the New Zealand side was unconvincing in a 28-20 win against France on June 19, seven Kiwis then helped Auckland complete the clean sweep with their 17-0 victory over the French.
In all 19 players were used by Sorensen in Auckland’s campaign with 14 of them either Kiwis already or destined to wear the black and white jersey. Five of them captained the Kiwis and five of them were inducted as Legends of League by the NZRL – Dennis Williams, Mark Graham, Kurt Sorensen, Olsen Filipaina and Bill Sorensen – while others who would have long Kiwi and professional careers were Fred Ah Kuoi, Dane O’Hara and Gary Kemble.
The 1977 team was previously honoured by the Vodafone Warriors in 2007, marking the 30th anniversary with a special replica strip the Vodafone Warriors wore in their last home match of the season against Manly. On a sensational day – with 12 1977 veterans in attendance – the Vodafone Warriors beat Manly 36-14 in front of 25,070 fans (the ground was sold out two days earlier).
The 40th reunion has gone to another level with 13-Test Kiwi prop Lyndsay Proctor – who played all three matches for Auckland in 1977 – providing the inspiration to bring all of his team-mates together. With the Auckland Rugby League also providing support (including the production of a commemorative publication), Proctor received a commitment from every player to attend the reunion.
He's counting on seeing his 18 other team-mates in the same room for the first time in 40 years on Friday. What a moment it will be.
1977 GRAND SLAM AUCKLAND TEAM
Gary Kemble (Ellerslie) | Kiwi No 555, 19 tests, 1980-86 (1 try)
Dane O’Hara (Glenora) | Kiwi No 528, 36 tests, 1977-86 (14 tries)
Chris Jordan (Ellerslie) | Kiwi No 530, 5 tests, 1977-78 (2 tries, 16 goals)
Warren Winter (Mt Wellington) | Kiwi No 538, 1 test, 1978
Olsen Filipaina (Mangere East) | Kiwi No 529, 29 tests, 1977-86 (6 tries, 44 goals)
Dennis Williams (Te Atatu) | Kiwi No 490, 31 tests, 1971-81 (4 tries, 4 goals, 1 field goal)
Fred Ah Kuoi (Richmond) | Kiwi No 522, 28 tests, 1975-85 (5 tries)
Dave Sorensen (Glenora) | Kiwi No 494, 1 test, 1971-72
John Smith (Te Atatu) | Kiwi No 523, 12 tests, 1975-79 (3 tries)
Lyndsay Proctor (Ellerslie) | Kiwi No 507, 13 tests, 1974-78 (1 try)
John Wilson (Northcote) | Kiwi No 504, 2 tests, 1972 (3 goals)
Glenn Taylor (Otahuhu) | Kiwi No 540, 1 test, 1978
Kurt Sorensen (Mt Wellington) | Kiwi No 524, 27 tests, 1975-89 (4 tries)
Mark Graham (Otahuhu) | Kiwi No 535, 29 tests, 1977-88 (7 tries)
Alan McCarthy (Ponsonby) | Kiwi trialist
Mark Lowe (Mt Wellington) | Kiwi trialist
Stan Napa (Otahuhu) | Kiwi trialist
Dave Lepper (Northcote) | Kiwi trialist
Luther Toloa (Richmond) | Kiwi trialist
GRAND SLAM DETAILS
AUCKLAND v AUSTRALIA, CARLAW PARK
Wednedsay, June 1
Auckland 19 (Olsen Filipaina, Glenn Taylor, Dennis Williams tries; Chris Jordan 3 conversions, 2 penalties)
Australia 15 (Rod Reddy, Greg Pierce, Mark Thomas tries; Graham Eadie 2 conversions, penalty).
Halftime: 14-7 Auckland.
Referee: John Percival (Auckland).
Auckland | Gary Kemble; Warren Winter, Olsen Filipaina, Dennis Williams (c), Chris Jordan; Dave Sorensen, John Smith; John Wilson, Glenn Taylor, Lyndsay Proctor; Kurt Sorensen, Alan McCarthy; Mark Graham. Reserves: Dave Lepper, Mark Lowe.
AUCKLAND v GREAT BRITAIN, CARLAW PARK
Tuesday, June 14
Auckland 14 (Chris Jordan, Dane O'Hara tries; Chris Jordan conversion, penalty; Gary Kemble 2 penalties).
Great Britain 10 (Peter Smith, Jim Thompson tries; George Fairbairn 2 conversions)
Halftime: 7-5 Auckland.
Referee: Kevin Steel (Auckland).
Auckland | Gary Kemble; Dane O’Hara, Dennis Williams (c), Fred Ah Kuoi, Chris Jordan; Dave Sorensen, John Smith; Lyndsay Proctor, Glenn Taylor, Mark Lowe; Kurt Sorensen, Alan McCarthy; Mark Graham. Reserves: Olsen Filipaina, Stan Napa.
AUCKLAND v FRANCE, CARLAW PARK
Tuesday, June 21
Auckland 17 (Dave Sorensen, Dane O’Hara, Dennis Williams tries; Chris Jordan conversion, 2 penalties; John Wilson penalty).
Halftime: 9-0 Auckland.
Referee: Neville Kesha (Auckland).
Auckland | Gary Kemble; Dane O’Hara, Dennis Williams (c), Fred Ah Kuoi, Chris Jordan; Dave Sorensen, John Smith; Lyndsay Proctor, Glenn Taylor, Luther Toloa; John Wilson, Alan McCarthy; Kurt Sorensen. Reserves: Olsen Filipaina, Stan Napa.