From opening night on March 10, 1995 to this Friday night’s clash against Cronulla in the Capital, Wellington has always figured large in the Vodafone Warriors’ existence.
Fittingly it’s Wellington’s own Stephen Kearney who provides the common link from that first night all the way through to this week’s 18th-round contest at Westpac Stadium, the Vodafone Warriors’ 10th outing at the venue since first playing there against the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs in 2001.
Kearney (Warrior #11) was there as a foundation player on the club’s debut against the Broncos and now, 14 years later, has his first foray at Westpac Stadium as Vodafone Warriors head coach (the club’s first match in Wellington since beating the Bulldogs there in 2016). It comes close to five years since he guided the Kiwis to their outstanding victory over the Kangaroos in the 2014 Four Nations final in the Capital.
Educated at Paraparaumu College and brought up on the Kapiti Coast – where his parents still live – Kearney started his rugby league career with the Kapiti Bears before moving to the Randwick Kingsfishers and then beginning his professional career with Western Suburbs in the old Winfield Cup in 1992.
With the Vodafone Warriors heading back to Kearney’s home territory – and with this being the Vodafone Warriors’ 25th season in the NRL – what better time to play selector, trawl through the all-time roster and pick a Wellington team spanning the era.
Players considered for this exercise could qualify by birth, living in the region at some point or being identified with it.
Former Vodafone Warriors captain Ryan Hoffman, for instance, spent two years in the area when his father transferred on business; Hoffman junior attended Hutt Intermediate School and played age group representative rugby union during his time in Wellington.
Marc Ellis was born in Wellington and educated at Wellington College before his move to the University of Otago while Auckland-born Sione Faumuina went to Rongotai College. Former Vodafone Warriors Ngani Laumape and Sam Lousi have both played rugby union for the Wellington-based Hurricanes.
The starting line-up selected features 10 players who represented the Kiwis including Ellis who was both an All Black and a Kiwi, a current All Black in Laumape and an ex-Kangaroo (Hoffman). There are also three former Kiwi captains (Kearney, Simon Mannering and Issac Luke) as well as the only player (Mannering) to appear in 300 NRL games for the Vodafone Warriors.
Here are the Wellington Warriors including their Vodafone Warriors club numbers and statistics along with their Wellington junior clubs, teams or schools as the case may be.
WELLINGTON WARRIORS 1995-2019
1 MARC ELLIS (Wellington College)
Warrior #29, 1996-1998, 36 games, 11 tries, 29 goals, 1 field goal
2 VINCE MELLARS (Wainuiomata Lions, Petone Panthers)
Warrior #106, 2003-2004, 7 games, 1 try
3 RICHIE BLACKMORE (Poneke rugby union)
Warrior #26, 1995-1996 & 2001, 35 games, 13 tries
4 PAUL WHATUIRA (Wainuiomata Lions)
Warrior #78, 2000, 5 games
5 NGANI LAUMAPE (Hurricanes rugby union)
Warrior #180, 2013-2014, 30 games, 11 tries
6 SIONE FAUMUINA (Rongotai College)
Warrior #98, 2002-2006, 88 games, 18 tries, 33 goals
7 ISSAC LUKE (St Bernard’s College, Wainuiomata High School)
Warrior #206, 2016-2019, 78 games, 13 tries, 57 goals
8 BEN MATULINO (Te Aroha Eels)
Warrior #142, 2008-2017, 212 games, 17 tries
9 SYD ERU (Upper Hutt Tigers)
Warrior #19, 1995-1999, 59 games, 15 tries
10 GAVIN HILL (Oriental Rongotai and Hutt OId Boys rugby union)
Warrior #8, 1995-1996, 14 games, 9 goals
11 STEPHEN KEARNEY (Kapiti Bears, Randwick Kingfishers)
Warrior #11, 1995-1998, 79 games, 11 tries
12 RYAN HOFFMAN (Hutt Intermediate School)
Warrior #195, 2015-2017, 60 games, 11 tries, 1 goal
13 SIMON MANNERING (Te Aroha Eels, University Hunters)
Warrior #125, 2005-2018, 301 games, 63 tries
ALEHANA MARA (St George Dragons)
Warrior #162, 2010-2012, 16 games
CHARLIE GUBB (University Hunters)
Warrior #183, 2013-2017, 40 games 1 try
SAM LOUSI (Hurricanes rugby union)
Warrior #175, 2012-2014, 3 games
ZANE CLARKE (Randwick Kingfishers)
Warrior #54, 1998, 5 games
PETER LEWIS (Upper Hutt Tigers)
Warrior #63, 1999, 11 games, 1 try