As Vodafone Warriors jerseys go, the club’s 2001-2002 design is at the top of the heap.
An eye-catching PUMA replica has been unveiled as the club’s 2022 heritage jersey for Sunday’s sixth-round encounter with the Sydney Roosters at the Sydney Cricket Ground, an occasion which will celebrate the grand final clash between the two sides 20 years ago.
The jersey is instantly evocative, etched memories leaping out of the memory bank of the Vodafone Warriors running out onto Stadium Australia for the club’s first grand final appearance on October 6, 2002.
And, above all, images of the wonderful Stacey Jones scoring one of the greatest grand final tries just after halftime. While the night went flat after that peak, this weekend sees the two protagonists marking the occasion, each in replica jerseys.
Yet to remember the original PUMA-designed Vodafone Warriors jersey is to know instantly that it’s much more than just another jersey, and that it’s not all about that grand final either for, in the space of only two seasons, it’s this design which tells a special and spectacular story all of its own.
For one, it serves as a permanent signpost and statement of the new and productive era which followed on immediately from the wreckage when the club all but disappeared after the 2000 campaign.
Above all, it’s a home strip that represents so many of the best days – and most wondrous deeds – among the 287 matches the club has played at Mount Smart Stadium. And one in particular away from Auckland when the Vodafone Warriors fashioned their fabulous win over Cronulla Sutherland in Sydney to reach the 2002 grand final.
It’s a jersey which equally conjures up memories of a galaxy of many of the most exceptional players among the 267 who have represented the Vodafone Warriors since 1995.
The list automatically starts with the incomparable Jones and then it’s take your pick from this alphabetical list of players who appeared at some stage (even just once) in those two seasons: Vinnie Anderson, Monty Betham, Richie Blackmore, Cliff Beverley, Kevin Campion, John Carlaw, Ivan Cleary, Jason Death, Awen Guttenbeil, Henry Fa’afili, Sione Faumuina, Lance Hohaia, Wairangi Koopu, Ali Lauitiiti, P J Marsh, Francis Meli, Justin Morgan, Justin Murphy, David Myles, Jeremiah Pai, Iafeta Paleaaesina, Anthony Seuseu, Jerry Seuseu, Jonathon Smith, Logan Swann, Karl Temata, Jason Temu, Motu Tony, Mark Tookey, Clinton Toopi, Evarn Tuimavave, Richard Villasanti, Brent Webb and Nathan Wood.
Absorb the names and there’s a wow factor over and over, a list that includes two current assistant coaches in Jones and Morgan, all three club ambassadors – Betham, Campion and Guttenbeil – and 11 players who appeared in more than 100 games for the Vodafone Warriors.
There are sundry stunning performances to recall, all in that wonderful black jersey with the blue, red and white trimming.
Like the series of outstanding displays which netted the minor premiership and two utterly unforgettable victories and occasions – beating Canberra in the club’s first home final and then taking care of the Sharks when Jones combined with Carlaw for the match winner in the preliminary final.
In 2001 it was rock ‘n’ roll football as the Vodafone Warriors soared one week and all too often dipped the next. But there were astounding results in the black, blue, red and white at Mount Smart – wiping Penrith 52-8, the Dragons 34-6, the first win over Brisbane 13-12, the Bulldogs 34-8, the Eels 29-18, 30-0 up at halftime against the Sharks with a scoreless second half and grinding out a splendid 14-8 win over the Roosters late in the season.
It went to another level in 2002, among the results a season-opening 21-14 win over the Roosters, savaging the Northern Eagles 68-10, out-muscling Melbourne 20-10, beating the Bulldogs 22-14 and the Broncos 18-4 in finals-like battles on consecutive weekends at home and Wests Tigers 28-12 to eventually secure the minor premiership.
And then there were the players, deeds and moments.
Lauitiiti’s break and magical flick pass in the build-up for a Cleary try against the Broncos, Jones’ match winning field goal against the Broncos, Campion dealing to Broncos prop Shane Webcke, Paleaaesina steaming off the back fence time after time, Seuseu, Tookey and Villasanti forming a fearsome trio of front rowers, Toopi’s power, pace and aggression (29 tries across those two seasons), Cleary’s points-scoring (more than 400 points), an exceptional array of back rowers in Guttenbeil, Lauitiiti, Campion, Swann and Koopu bringing a meld of toughness, skill and work rate, the impish and gifted rookies Hohaia and Webb, flamboyant wingers Meli and Fa’afili, a hard man hooker in Betham and an explosively skilful one in Marsh while not forgetting all the others who had roles to play.
Ultimately it’s this jersey which stands for three major firsts – making the finals in 2001 before winning the minor premiership and making the grand final a year later. A jersey to celebrate and to savour. It means everything to those who played in and for the members and fans who backed them along the way.