Cronulla’s early and recent periods of dominance bookended a decade where the Warriors held the upper hand, leaving the Sharks with a four-win advantage after a rivalry spanning 22 seasons to the end of the 2016 campaign.

An incredible one-third of the teams’ 36 encounters have been decided by four points or less, while they’ve produced an unforgettable preliminary final and a string of regular season nail-biters.

Tonight’s match is the only encounter between the two clubs this season while they also met only once last year.

 

The records

Overall record: Played 36 – Cronulla won 20, Vodafone Warriors won 16; Cronulla scored 715 points, Vodafone Warriors scored 658 points).

Biggest wins: Cronulla – 45-4 at Mt Smart Stadium, 2012; Vodafone Warriors – 30-0 at Mt Smart Stadium, 2001.

Longest winning streaks: Cronulla – 5 matches (2012-2014); Vodafone Warriors – 3 games (twice – 2002-2003 and 2010-2011).

Finals: Played 1 – Vodafone Warriors won 1.

Most appearances: Paul Gallen (Cronulla) – 19; Stacey Jones (Vodafone Warriors) – 17; Simon Mannering (Vodafone Warriors) – 17; Ben Matulino (Vodafone Warriors) – 15; David Peachey (Cronulla) – 13; Sam Rapira (Vodafone Warriors) – 13; Manu Vatuvei (Vodafone Warriors) – 13.

Most tries: Manu Vatuvei (Vodafone Warriors) – 11; David Peachey (Cronulla) – 10; Wairangi Koopu (Vodafone Warriors) – 6; Nathan Stapleton (Cronulla) – 6; Colin Best (Cronulla) – 5; Clinton Toopi (Vodafone Warriors) – 5; Richard Villasanti (Vodafone Warriors and Cronulla) – 5.

Most points: Luke Covell (Cronulla) – 60; Mat Rogers (Cronulla) – 50; James Maloney (Vodafone Warriors and Cronulla) – 47; Manu Vatuvei (Vodafone Warriors) – 44; Todd Carney (Cronulla) – 40; Ivan Cleary (Vodafone Warriors) – 40; David Peachey (Cronulla) – 40.

 

The games

1995-2001 – Sharks enjoy early running

The fledgling Auckland Warriors’ first clash with the Cronulla Sharks was a thriller, with the premiership newcomers prevailing 23-18 at Shark Park after scoring five tries to three against the finals-bound hosts. But the match was arguably more significant for being 19-year-old Stacey Jones’ initial first grade run-on appearance, starring at standoff and booting a field goal.

Bragging rights over the first seven seasons of the rivalry belonged to the Sharks, however, winning six of the first nine encounters between the clubs – including a 28-24 victory in their first visit to Mt Smart Stadium in 1996.

At the end of ’96, Cronulla and Auckland faced off in the reserve grade grand final. An experienced Sharks side saw off the gallant, Aaron Whittaker-led Warriors 14-12 at the Sydney Football Stadium.

One of the most memorable matches occurred in 1999, when a late Mitch Healey conversion from the sideline in driving Auckland rain snatched a 22-20 victory for the Sharks, the NRL’s eventual minor premiers.

 

2001-2011 – Vodafone Warriors claim the ascendancy

The Vodafone Warriors marked the beginning of a 10-year period that would garner 11 wins in 18 meetings with the Sharks by swamping them 30-0 at Mt Smart late in the 2001 campaign, a result that was crucial in lifting the club to its first finals appearance.

Honours were shared in a pair of high-scoring showdowns in the 2002 regular season – the Vodafone Warriors romping to a 42-20 win at home, the Sharks prevailing 36-24 in the return clash – before the heavyweight clubs squared off again in an epic preliminary final.

 

Preliminary Final, 2002 – Vodafone Warriors grab maiden grand final berth

The minor premiership-winning Vodafone Warriors gave away 10,000 tickets to anyone holding a New Zealand passport, ensuring the hometown advantage was blunted for the Sharks, despite a 45,702-strong turnout at Stadium Australia.

Underdogs despite their lofty ladder position, the Vodafone Warriors scored first after an ill-conceived pass from Paul Mellor was spectacularly snaffled by utility Motu Tony, who scampered 20 metres for a try in the 20th minute. The Sharks belatedly opened their account three minutes after halftime, hitting back when winger Matthew Rieck scored from a Brett Kimmorley bomb.

The Vodafone Warriors pushed to a 10-4 lead thanks to a stunning 50-metre try from boom centre Clinton Toopi in the 55th minute, but Kimmorley set up a tense final quarter when he darted over next to the posts to level the scores.

With a maiden grand final spot on the line, it was left to Vodafone Warriors talisman Stacey Jones to come up with the big play. The little halfback threaded an inch-perfect grubber through, sitting up beautifully for journeyman centre John Carlaw to latch onto with five and a half minutes left and securing a 16-10 triumph.

The Vodafone Warriors racked up two wins over the Sharks in 2003, but the Shire dwellers won the next three games the clubs contested – including a 28-24 victory in Perth in 2005.

The rivals then traded wins for five seasons, with neither side able to go back-to-back in eight meetings from 2006-2010.

The finals-bound Vodafone Warriors broke that run in 2010, following up a 30-10 win at home in round two – featuring a Manu Vatuvei hat-trick – with a 37-10 drubbing at Toyota Stadium in round 22, rookie winger Bill Tupou this time notching a treble.

A sizzling double to fullback Glen Fisiiahi spearheaded the Vodafone Warriors’ 26-18 win over the Sharks in a historic encounter at Owen Delaney Park in Taupo early in 2011, giving the Vodafone Warriors three consecutive victories in the rivalry for the just the second time.

 

2012-2016 – Sharks circle again

Cronulla turned the tables on the Vodafone Warriors emphatically in 2012. Todd Carney engineered a 20-19 win at home after the Sharks had trailed by 11 points with 10 minutes left, setting up two tries for halves partner Jeff Robson. Seven weeks later Carney scored 25 points as the Sharks romped to a 45-4 win in Auckland – the Vodafone Warriors’ second-biggest defeat at Mt Smart Stadium.

The Sharks chalked up another pair of wins in 2013, followed by a 37-6 demolition early in 2014 that saw Nathan Stapleton score four tries and would prove to be Matthew Elliott’s last game in charge of the Vodafone Warriors before Andrew McFadden was handed the coaching reins.

The Vodafone Warriors enjoyed some respite, holding on for a nervy 16-12 win at home later in 2014 before producing one of the great escapes of recent years the following season.

 

Round 9, 2015 – Johnson snatches insane buzzer-beater

Vodafone Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson added another highlight to his reel of clutch match-winning moments at Cronulla’s expense at Remondis Stadium. Fresh from steering the Kiwis to a memorable Anzac Day triumph just six days earlier, Johnson broke a 10-all deadlock in the 73rd minute by darting through the line and putting in a stunning kick for Solomone Kata to score. But that act of brilliance was negated by a solo try by Andrew Fifita and a cool-headed conversion from Valentine Holmes that put the Sharks 16-14 in front with less than three minutes on the clock. Johnson stole the result with a mesmerising individual try with a minute left, leaving a trail of Cronulla defenders strewn in his wake before dotting down.

Johnson’s season-ending injury in Round 20 cruelled the Vodafone Warriors’ bid for a finals spot, and the Sharks took advantage a week later courtesy of a 18-14 victory at Mt Smart that helped them on their way to a sixth-place finish. The visitors overcame a 10-0 halftime deficit via a brilliant Valentine Holmes double and the match-winning try to Ricky Leutele in the 70th minute, with Tuimoala Lolohea denied a last-minute leveller by the video referee.

The clubs continued the trend of nail-biters in 2016 with a golden point classic as a Cronulla side containing former Vodafone Warriors James Maloney, Chad Townsend and Jayson Bukuya pipped a visiting Vodafone Warriors outfit featuring ex-Sharks Blake Ayshford and Jonathan Wright.

 

Round 16, 2016 – Maloney thwarts former teammates

The Vodafone Warriors, sitting 10th on the ladder but coming off three straight wins, took it to competition leaders Cronulla early at Southern Cross Group Stadium, with former Sharks Blake Ayshford and Jonathan Wright scoring for a 10-0 lead. But Michael Ennis and Ricky Leutele grabbed tries in the last six minutes before halftime to snatch a 12-10 advantage for the hosts. A contentious penalty try to ex-Vodafone Warrior Jayson Bukuya extended the margin to eight points, but a Thomas Leuluai four-pointer and a penalty goal with six minutes left to Issac Luke sent the match into golden point. It was another familiar face that landed the decisive blow during a nerve-shredding extra period, however, with James Maloney slotting a wobbly field goal in the 87th minute to secure the Sharks’ seventh win in their last nine clashes with the Vodafone Warriors. 

 

They played for both clubs

Vince Mellars: Wellington-born centre Mellars played seven games for the Vodafone Warriors in 2003-2004 before linking with Cronulla, scoring two tries in five games for the Sharks. 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.

Tevita Leo-Latu: Hooker Leo-Latu played 22 first grade games for the Vodafone Warriors from 2003-2005, and came off the bench in the 2004 Anzac Test for New Zealand. Joining Cronulla in 2006 for a one-season stint that produced 10 NRL appearances, Leo-Latu then linked with Wakefield Trinity. The Richmond junior also represented Tonga at the 2008 World Cup.

Henry Perenara: Auckland-born Perenara debuted for the Vodafone Warriors a week after his 18th birthday, playing three top-grade games in 2000. He then moved to Melbourne for two seasons, before stints with the Dragons, Eels and Sharks, playing nine games for the latter in 2007 before turning his hand to refereeing. Perenara has been an NRL referee since 2011.

Dane Nielsen: After playing one NRL game for Cronulla in 2007, Nielsen became a Queensland Origin rep and premiership winner during five seasons in Melbourne. He played 30 games for the Vodafone Warriors in 2013-2014 but his stint with St George Illawarra in 2015 garnered just two first grade outings. Nielsen has since spent time at Bradford and South Sydney.

Jayson Bukuya: Fiji international Bukuya debuted for the Sharks in 2008 and was a permanent member of their first-grade line-up by the time he joined the Vodafone Warriors in 2014. The second-rower played 18 games in one season for the Auckland-based club before returning to Cronulla, where he has now played 124 games and won a grand final.

Blake Ayshford: After bringing up a century of NRL games with Wests Tigers, centre Ayshford’s career stalled during a two-season stint at Cronulla in 2014-2015 that garnered just 20 first grade appearances. Ayshford linked with the Vodafone Warriors in 2016, however, and has scored 12 tries in 37 of a possible 42 games in the top flight.

Jeremy Latimore: Underrated journeyman Latimore cut his teeth in the NRL with Parramatta before playing 24 games for the Vodafone Warriors in 2010-2011. After a season at St George Illawarra and a four-year stay at Penrith, the consistent front-rower joined Cronulla in 2017, making 13 appearances for the defending premiers to date.

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 was outstanding in the Roosters’ premiership triumph, scoring 252 points and starring in that year’s grand final victory. Maloney repeated the dose after joining Cronulla in 2016, steering the club to its first title. A veteran of nine Origins for NSW and two Tests for Australia, Maloney has scored 346 points in 40 games for the Sharks, from a career total of 1629 points in 198 games.

Jeff Robson: After playing just six games across five seasons for Manly, Robson emerged as a surprise hero of Parramatta’s charge to the 2009 grand final. The wily halfback played 61 games for the Eels from 2009-2011, before providing excellent value in four seasons as Cronulla’s No 7, with his 92 appearances including three finals campaigns. His move to the Vodafone Warriors in 2016 lasted just seven first grade outings, however, as he sought a mid-season release to return to Parramatta. Robson has so far made another 10 NRL appearances for the blue-and-golds.

Brett Seymour: Regarded as Allan Langer’s heir apparent after debuting for the Broncos as a 17-year-old in 2002, injuries dictated that classy halfback Seymour played just 62 first grade games for the club before linking with Cronulla in 2007. Seymour played 39 games in three seasons for the Sharks, before heading to Auckland and racking up 22 games for the Vodafone Warriors in 2010-2011. Seymour’s professional career wrapped up with Super League club Hull FC.

Misi Taulapapa: Marist Richmond junior Taulapapa made a belated NRL debut at 24 years of age, playing five games for the Vodafone Warriors in 2006. He linked with the Sharks the following season, playing 33 games in three years – including a hat-trick in a finals win over Canberra in 2008. The Tongan international went on to have stints with English clubs Sheffield Eagles and Featherstone Rovers.

Chad Townsend: Local junior Townsend debuted for Cronulla in 2011 and captained the club’s NSW Cup team to a premiership in 2013 before joining the Vodafone Warriors. He played 41 games in two seasons for the Vodafone Warriors, but returned to the Sharks for family reasons in 2016 – ironically replacing Auckland-bound Jeff Robson in the halves. Townsend was a key figure in the Sharks’ surge to the 2016 premiership and has now played 64 games for the club, 45 of those coming during his second stint.

Nigel Vagana: A prolific try-scorer for the Auckland Warriors, Vagana crossed 37 times in 71 games from 1996-2000 before being snapped up by the Bulldogs. He scored scoring 61 tries in just 76 games for the blue-and-whites – including club records for tries in a match (5) and a season (23) in 2002 – and taking out the Dally M Centre of the Year award in 2001-2002. The Kiwi Test veteran scored 32 tries in 61 games for Cronulla from 2004-2006 before finishing his decorated career at South Sydney.

Richard Villasanti: Intimidating forward Villasanti arrived at the Vodafone Warriors in 2001 via stints at Balmain and Wests Tigers. He played 96 games for the Vodafone Warriors – including the club’s maiden grand final appearance in ’02 – before becoming its first Australian Test representative the following season. He joined Cronulla midway through 2006, playing seven NRL games in the Sharks’ colours.

Jonathan Wright: Former Parramatta utility back Wright played 38 games for the Bulldogs in 2011-2012, scoring 14 tries in the latter season and featuring in the club’s grand final loss to the Storm. After two seasons at Cronulla that garnered 41 NRL appearances, Wright linked with the Vodafone Warriors and featured 29 times in first grade in 2015-2016, but joined Manly ahead of the 2017 season.