Regarded as two of the most unpredictable and exciting sides in the NRL, the 18-season rivalry between the Vodafone Warriors and Wests Tigers has been marked by high-scoring try-fests and extraordinary comebacks since their first meeting early in the 2000 campaign.
Overall record: Played 27 – Wests Tigers won 14, Vodafone Warriors won 13; Wests Tigers scored 625 points, Vodafone Warriors scored 577 points.
Biggest wins: Wests Tigers – 50-4 at AMI Stadium, Christchurch, 2004; Vodafone Warriors – 42-18 at Westpac Stadium, Wellington, 2014.
Longest winning streaks: Wests Tigers – 4 matches (2000-01); Vodafone Warriors – 3 matches (four times – 2002-2003, 2005-2006, 2007-2009 and 2013-2015).
Finals: Played 1 – Vodafone Warriors won 1.
Most appearances: Simon Mannering (Vodafone Warriors) – 16; Robbie Farah (Wests Tigers) – 14; Manu Vatuvei (Vodafone Warriors) – 14; Chris Heighington (Wests Tigers) – 13; Lance Hohaia (Vodafone Warriors) – 12; Chris Lawrence (Wests Tigers) – 12; Ben Matulino (Vodafone Warriors); John Skandalis (Wests Tigers) – 12.
Most tries: Chris Lawrence (Wests Tigers) – 7; Clinton Toopi (Vodafone Warriors) – 7; Manu Vatuvei (Vodafone Warriors); Robbie Farah (Wests Tigers) – 6; Shaun Johnson (Vodafone Warriors) – 6; Simon Mannering (Vodafone Warriors) – 6; Taniela Tuiaki (Wests Tigers) – 6.
Most points: Benji Marshall (Wests Tigers) – 58; Shaun Johnson (Vodafone Warriors) – 50; Brett Hodgson (Wests Tigers) – 48; Pat Richards (Wests Tigers) – 42; Lance Hohaia (Vodafone Warriors) – 30.
2000-2005 – Joint venture worries the Vodafone Warriors in early seasons
Wests Tigers achieved their first premiership win as a joint venture against the Warriors, with a field goal by Craig Field proving the difference in a 17-16 round two success at Leichhardt Oval in 2000. The Tigers carved out an emphatic 30-4 victory on their first visit to Auckland later that year, and chalked up another pair of wins in 2001 despite their sophomore season troubles and the Vodafone Warriors’ surge to a maiden finals berth.
The Vodafone Warriors enjoyed a run of three wins over the Tigers in 2002-2003, before the Tigers took their 2004 and ’05 home games against the Vodafone Warriors to Christchurch and racked up two mighty wins. Brett Hodgson scored 22 points in a 50-4 rout in ’04 while former Auckland Warriors centre Paul Whatuira crossed for two tries in a 24-6 win the following season.
2005-2009 – Vodafone Warriors restore pride
Beginning with a 21-4 victory over the eventual premiers midway through 2005, the Vodafone Warriors downed the Tigers six times in seven meetings, including a 26-10 result to break their Christchurch hoodoo in ’06 and a pulsating 28-26 win (despite a hat-trick by the Tigers’ Kiwi winger Taniela Tuiaki) at Leichhardt that ultimately proved crucial to the Vodafone Warriors scraping into the ’08 finals and the Tigers missing the cut.
2010-2014 – Finals miracle stands out among succession of thrillers
The Tigers wrested back control of the rivalry in 2010 with a nine-try, 50-6 drubbing at Campbelltown – including a hat-trick to centre Geoff Daniela – as both sides made their way towards the finals. But the clubs experienced both sides of extraordinary comebacks and gut-wrenching finishes in 2011, albeit with vastly different rewards and consequences at stake.
Round 14, 2011 – Benji inspires stunning comeback
The Vodafone Warriors appeared certain to gain revenge for a 12-20 loss in round two, leading the Tigers by 18 points inside the final quarter of their mid-season clash at Mt Smart after a blistering three-try flurry in the space of 11 minutes, with Manu Vatuvei bagging a brilliant double and rookie No 7 Shaun Johnson racing away for his maiden NRL try. But New Zealand Test captain Benji Marshall engineered one of the great fight-backs of the NRL era, scoring two tries and laying on the match-winner for winger Beau Ryan in an extraordinary 26-22 result in favour of the Tigers. Marshall was also involved in a fiery conclusion to the match, jostled vigorously by Vodafone Warriors defenders after running the ball over his own dead-ball line on full-time, sparking a heated push-and-shove.
Semi-Final, 2011 – Vodafone Warriors eliminate heartbroken Tigers via courageous late rally
Pumped 40-10 by Brisbane in the qualifying final a week earlier, the Vodafone Warriors were on course for a straight-sets finals exit when they trailed Wests Tigers 6-18 at halftime at the SFS. But the Vodafone Warriors scored the only three tries of a frenetic second half, pegging the deficit back to two points with 15 minutes remaining before Shaun Johnson’s fateful cross-field bomb at the 77-minute mark. Inscrutable centre Krisnan Inu batted the ball back, Tigers winger Lote Tuqiri was unable to handle it and it popped back into the prostrate Inu’s hands. Inu reached out to score a remarkable match-winning try and send the Vodafone Warriors into the preliminary final, 22-20.
In a hotly-anticipated rematch early in 2012, the Vodafone Warriors coughed up a 10-0 halftime lead before being overrun 24-22 by the Tigers at Leichhardt Oval. The following season, Marshall played his final game at the hallowed venue as a Tiger (prior to his short-lived switch to rugby union) against the Vodafone Warriors; the embattled joint venture led 14-6 at the break but the Shaun Johnson-inspired visitors won 24-14 after a second-half shutout.
The extraordinary sequence of early leads being overturned continued when the Vodafone Warriors prevailed against the rapidly improving Tigers early in 2014, recovering from a 0-12 deficit to snatch a halftime lead before powering away to a 42-18 victory. Bulldozing centre Konrad Hurrell starred off the bench and winger Glen Fisiiahi raced over for four tries in the helter-skelter clash, which doubled as the Vodafone Warriors’ maiden win in seven matches in Wellington.
Manu Vatuvei celebrated his 200th first grade appearance with a double in a 32-22 defeat of the Tigers early in 2015, but the injury-ravaged Vodafone Warriors crashed to a 16-50 loss at Campbelltown in the penultimate round. Told by coach Jason Taylor he was unwanted the club only days earlier, NSW Origin hooker Robbie Farah responded with a man of the match performance in the thrashing.
Campbelltown was the venue again in round one of 2016, which saw the Tigers race to a 28-6 halftime lead before the Vodafone Warriors charged back to trail by just two points. James Tedesco’s second try on fulltime sealed a 34-26 victory.
The clubs were fighting for survival in the finals race in a round 25 shootout at Mt Smart later that season. The Vodafone Warriors led by six with 10 minutes left but were left shattered by a blistering Tigers finish, with the visitors running in three late tries to win 36-24.
They played for both clubs
Paul Whatuira: Wainuiomata junior Whatuira played five NRL games off the bench for the embattled Auckland Warriors in 2000. After subsequent stints with Melbourne and Penrith – winning a grand final with the latter in 2003 – the centre joined Wests Tigers in 2005 and won another premiership that year, scoring 18 tries. Whatuira linked with Huddersfield in 2008 and later had a failed stint with Parramatta in 2011.
John Simon: Former Illawarra, Sydney City and Parramatta half Simon joined the Warriors midway through 1999, playing 32 games for the club – the majority as captain. The NSW and Australian rep joined Wests Tigers in 2001, chalking up 18 appearances before hanging up the boots.
Tyran Smith: Auckland-born Smith, a winger-turned-lock, arrived at the Warriors in 1998 via stints with Souths, North Queensland and Hunter Mariners. He played 10 games for the Warriors before linking with Balmain in 1999 and featuring in 42 games during Wests Tigers’ first two seasons. The eight-Test Kiwi spent the last four years of his career at Canberra.
Robert Mears: Picked up by the Vodafone Warriors midway through the 1999 season after limited appearances across five seasons for the Roosters, hooker Mears quickly became an invaluable player during his two seasons at Mount Smart Stadium. A quality dummy half, he was used at halfback for three matches at the start of the 2000 season when Stacey Jones was still recovering from a broken arm. He scored 10 tries in 40 appearances and was named the club’s player of the year in 2000. Mears finished his career with 57 games for Wests Tigers from 2001-2004.
John Carlaw: Reliable three-quarter Carlaw became a foundation Wests Tiger after stints with Hunter Mariners, Melbourne and Balmain in the late-1990s, but was snapped up by the burgeoning Vodafone Warriors in 2002. The Newcastle product played in the club’s maiden grand final appearance before finishing his professional career with St George Illawarra in 2004.
Richard Villasanti: A first grade debutant for Balmain in 1999, ‘Villa the Gorilla’ played seven games during Wests Tigers’ inaugural NRL season, but made his mark with the Vodafone Warriors. The hulking forward played 96 games for the club and became its first Australian Test representative in 2003, while also featuring in all seven of the Vodafone Warriors’ finals games in the early-2000s.
Matt Jobson: After cutting his teeth in the NRL with Newcastle, Jobson played two first grade games for the Vodafone Warriors in 2004. The back-rower returned to Australia after just one season in Auckland and played four games for the Tigers in 2005.
Michael Crockett: Nuggety winger Crockett scored seven tries in eight games for Wests Tigers in 2006 before being snapped up by the Vodafone Warriors. He played 20 games and scored 11 tries for the Auckland-based club in two seasons.
Wade McKinnon: Former Souths and Parramatta fullback McKinnon was a sensational acquisition for the Vodafone Warriors in 2007, although his four seasons with the club were plagued by injury and suspension. Ludicrously sent off for allegedly using a knee on Tigers wing Taniela Tuiaki in a match in ’07, McKinnon played 54 games for the Vodafone Warriors before making a mid-season switch with the joint venture in 2010. The fiery No 1 played 22 games for the Tigers before joining Hull FC in 2012.
Elijah Taylor: Valuable back-rower Taylor – also a capable centre and hooker – captained the Vodafone Warriors to their maiden NYC premiership success in 2010 before featuring in the club’s NRL grand final loss a year later during his rookie season. After 67 games for the Vodafone Warriors, he was lured to Penrith by his former coach Ivan Cleary in 2014, playing 39 games in two and a half seasons. Switching to Wests Tigers midway through 2016, Taylor has played 36 games for the joint venture to date and was reunited with Cleary again in 2017.
James Gavet: After breaking into first grade with Canterbury in 2012, bruising forward Gavet made a name for himself in 12 appearances for Wests Tigers in 2014. A stint in Brisbane was wrecked by injury, but he has played 23 games for the Vodafone Warriors since arriving in 2016 and was one the club’s most impressive performers in 2017 despite missing big chunks of the year through injury.
Bodene Thompson: After four seasons in the Titans’ first grade ranks, Tauranga-born Thompson joined Wests Tigers in 2013 and played 36 games in two seasons. A specialist back-rower who boasts the mobility to play in the centres, Thompson has been a regular fixture on the Vodafone Warriors’ right edge since arriving in Auckland in 2015, scoring 18 tries in 58 games to date.
Blake Ayshford: After bringing up a century of NRL games with Wests Tigers – including finals appearances in 2010-2011 – 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 13 tries in 42 of a possible 47 games in the top flight.
Tuimoala Lolohea: Involved in the Vodafone Warriors’ NYC premiership triumph in 2014 – the same year he made his NRL debut as a 19-year-old – the gifted Lolohea scored 104 points in 52 first grade games for the club at fullback, wing, centre, five-eighth, halfback and off the bench. Unable to forge a permanent spot under Stephen Kearney in 2017, Lolohea joined Wests Tigers midway through the season and has started in 12 straight games in the No 6 jumper, racking up 80 points.
Coached both clubs
Ivan Cleary: As a 53-game player for the Vodafone Warriors from 2000-2002, Cleary finished his playing career with what was then the club’s points-scoring record of 439 points (later bettered by Stacey Jones and then this year by Shaun Johnson). He returned to the club as an assistant coach in 2005 before becoming head coach in 2006, going on to establish himself as the club’s longest-serving coach with a record 154 games (77 wins) in charge; he guided the Vodafone Warriors to their second grand final in his last game in the job in 2011. Cleary followed this with 112 games as Penrith coach (53 wins, 59 losses) from 2012-2015 and returned to NRL coaching this year when he took over from Jason Taylor after five rounds of the 2017 season. He has a 5-13 record in 18 matches with the Tigers so far. After 186 games as an NRL player, Cleary is edging towards 300 games as a first-grade coach.