NRL superstars will be in plentiful supply when the Queen City hosts a sporting occasion like no other - the historic SKYCITY Auckland Double Header - this Saturday (April 7).
It’s a day which takes rugby league to another level, the first NRL double header played outside Australia and among the biggest events the code has staged in New Zealand.
It brings together both of 2017’s NRL grand finalists, the premiership-winning Melbourne Storm and the beaten North Queensland Cowboys, as well as two of 2018’s pacesetters the Vodafone Warriors and the Wests Tigers, all playing on the same stage at Mount Smart Stadium on Saturday, April 7. Two quality games for the price of one - Wests Tigers v Melbourne (5.00pm kick-off) and the Vodafone Warriors v North Queensland (7.30pm),
But it’s about more than just the two matches with other events built around the football, including a meet the teams opportunity at SKYCITY on Friday, April 6, followed by a live broadcast of a SKYCITY Auckland Double Header television special from the SKYCITY Theatre that evening.
Then the focus will be totally on Mount Smart Stadium on April 7 for the biggest rugby league occasion the Vodafone Warriors have hosted at their home ground since the club’s finals against Parramatta in 2007 and the Sydney Roosters in 2008.
In the space of little more than four hours, sporting fans can look forward to the prospect of seeing a plethora of stars.
Top of the list will be four members of the NRL’s elite 300-game club – Melbourne trio Cameron Smith, former Vodafone Warrior Ryan Hoffman and Billy Slater plus North Queensland’s incomparable Johnathan Thurston. Especially poignant will be Thurston’s appearance as his glittering career stops off in Auckland for the last time during his season-long farewell tour.
Also involved are another four players in the 250-plus class in Vodafone Warriors Simon Mannering and Adam Blair, Wests Tigers great Benji Marshall and Cowboys stalwart Gavin Cooper along with a host of other big names including Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Shaun Johnson, Blake Green, Tohu Harris, David Fusitu’a, Issac Luke, Jason Taumalolo, Jesse Bromwich, Matt Scott, Michael Morgan, Cameron Munster, Suliasi Vunivalu, Ben Matulino, Russell Packer and Elijah Taylor.
Apart from the players, the teams boast high-powered head coaches in Melbourne’s legendary Craig Bellamy, North Queensland’s 2015 premiership-winning Paul Green, former Vodafone Warriors fullback and head coach Ivan Cleary with the Tigers and Stephen Kearney, the highly-successful ex-Kiwi coach who has also played for and now coaches the Vodafone Warriors.
“This is an unreal opportunity not just for Aucklanders but for those in the wider region and also further afield,” said Vodafone Warriors CEO Cameron George.
“We’ll have thousands of fans coming from throughout New Zealand and also many travelling from Australia to support their teams and to take in all Auckland has to offer.
“When you stop to think about it, it’s amazing having not just four teams in Auckland at once but also both of 2017’s grand finalists as well as rugby league royalty, absolute superstars, in the shape of Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Johnathan Thurston and Benji Marshall.
“Topping it off is the fact JT is playing in Auckland for the last time. We’ve been blessed seeing so many of the game’s greatest players coming to Mount Smart Stadium year after year but few have come close to matching JT. Now we have a special opportunity to salute him for the contribution he has made to the game.
“Who knows, it might also be the last time we have the chance to see Cameron, Billy, Ryan and Benji playing here as well.
“Throw in the other outstanding players across all teams and this is a footy day you wouldn’t want to miss so buy your tickets now to avoid disappointment.”
George stressed the SKYCITY Auckland Double Header was about more than the on-field fare on April 7.
“It’s going to be a rugby league festival for Auckland having these four teams and some 80 NRL players in the city all at the same time,” he said.
“With tremendous support from SKYCITY and ATEED (Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development), we’ll have a wonderful game day programme at Mount Smart with loads of activities and attractions.
“And there’ll also be a strong focus on SKYCITY the day before the game (April 6) when the public will be able to meet the players from the teams while SKY Sport will also be televising a special SKYCITY Auckland Double Header show from the SKYCITY that evening.”
Players from the Wests Tigers and Melbourne Storm squads will be at SKYCITY signing autographs and mingling with fans from 4.00pm-5.00pm before the Vodafone Warriors and North Queensland are due to spend an hour with members and fans from 5.15pm-6.15pm.
Vodafone Warriors members were given the first opportunity to be in the audience for the SKY Sport show in the SKYCITY Theatre which begins with a rehearsal from 6.30pm before going out live at 7.00pm.
Hosted by SKY Sport’s Stephen McIvor, special guests will include Ben Ikin and Paul Kent, co-hosts of the Fox Sports-produced NRL 360 rugby league show which airs simultaneously on SKY Sport. Also featuring will be guests from the teams involved in the SKYCITY Auckland Double Header.
SKYCITY AUCKLAND DOUBLE HEADER
Friday, April 6
Meet the teams, SKYCITY
4.00pm-5.00pm | Wests Tigers and Melbourne Storm
5.15pm-6.15pm | Vodafone Warriors and North Queensland
Television special, SKYCITY Theatre
6.30pm | Rehearsal
7.00pm-7.30pm | Live telecast
Saturday, April 7
SKYCITY Auckland Double Header, Mount Smart Stadium
5.00pm | Wests Tigers v Melbourne Storm
7.30pm | Vodafone Warriors v North Queensland Cowboys
Wests Tigers | Benji Marshall (co-captain), Josh Reynolds (co-captain), Ben Matulino, Russell Packer (co-captain), Elijah Taylor (co-captain), Luke Brooks, Tuimoala Lolohea, Kevin Naiqama, Chris Lawrence (co-captain)
Melbourne Storm | Cameron Smith (captain), Billy Slater, Ryan Hoffman, Jesse Bromwich, Will Chambers, Sam Kasiano, Kenny Bromwich, Suliasi, Vunivalu, Josh Addo-Carr, Cameron Munster, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Felise Kaufusi
North Queensland Cowboys | Johnathan Thurston (captain), Matt Scott (captain), Jason Taumalolo, Michael Morgan, Gavin Cooper, Scott Bolton, Justin O’Neill, Antonio Winterstein, Jordan McLean, Jake Granville, Ethan Lowe, Coen Hess, Te Maire Martin
Vodafone Warriors | Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (captain), Simon Mannering, Adam Blair, Issac Luke, Shaun Johnson, Blake Green, Tohu Harris, Peta Hiku, Solomone Kata, David Fusitu’a, Sam Lisone, Leivaha Pulu, Agnatius Paasi, Ken Maumalo, James Gavet