The Vodafone Warriors turn the clock back on Sunday, celebrating their first grand final against the Sydney Roosters 20 years ago by wearing a replica of the hugely popular home jersey from their landmark 2002 season.
That year the Vodafone Warriors finished the regular season as minor premiers for the first and only time so far before beating Canberra and Cronulla Sutherland to advance to the grand final.
On Sunday the Vodafone Warriors and the Roosters meet at the Sydney Cricket Ground, the 44th time since their first clash at Ericsson Stadium – as it was known then – in 1995 (2.00pm kick-off local time; 4.00pm NZT).
Six years ago the Vodafone Warriors evoked memories of the 2002 campaign when they sported a replica jersey for their 15th-round encounter at Mount Smart Stadium. They responded in tough arm wrestle, winning 12-10.
To mark the occasion , players from the 2002 squad shared their favourite memories and highlights.
Here are their comments (Vodafone Warriors number in brackets):
STACEY JONES (#24)
Playing our first final at home against the Raiders is my favourite memory not only of the 2002 season but of my time with the club as a player. I loved everything about that day, the atmosphere the fans generated, the football we played and the result. Walking around the ground afterwards was inspirational. It was so good to see so many happy people in the crowd. They’d been through a lot with us over the years and you could see the satisfaction they felt.
The previous week we’d won the minor premiership and that day, after beating the Raiders, we were presented with the shield out on the field. Everyone was there and then a few weeks later we were in the grand final.
AWEN GUTTENBEIL (#33)
I remember eight or so of our starting side were rested for the final game of the regular season against Wests Tigers and we won – not knowing other results would fall our way and we'd become minor premiers by the end of the weekend.
We then had our first-ever home final against the Raiders the following week. The pride we as players had running out in front of our families, friends and fans was matched by everyone supporting the club that day. It was a truly magic moment in the club’s history.
LOGAN SWANN (#42)
The most enjoyable year of my playing career was unquestionably the 2002 season. We had a dynamic group of individuals who created the best and most competitive environment we'd ever experienced at the club. That was certainly how I felt about it. What we were able to achieve by making the grand final for the first time was one of the club’s proudest moments and there were so many other memories as well that made the season the most enjoyable I ever had.
JERRY SEUSEU (50)
I remember the people and enjoyed the friendships. The club brought together such an eclectic group and we had unprecedented success. When else would you get the likes of Tooks, Toops, Fa’afili, Motu, Logan, Stace, PJ, Franny, Villa, John Carlaw and Ivan in a group?
We had a long winning streak (eight matches) which justified the brand of footy we were playing. It was fun to play and be part of and the crowds really got into it. Our fans were vocal and really rallied behind us. I remember the people.
ALI LAUITIITI (#55)
For me there are two favourite moments. The first was the club winning the minor premiership for the first time. We beat Wests Tigers in the last match of the regular season on a Friday night and then results went our way in the final match to give us the title ahead of Newcastle. The next for me was beating Cronulla to make our first ever grand final and seeing how happy the boys were.
MONTY BETHAM (#61)
After making the top eight for the first time in the club’s history in 2001, we had a good feeling about 2002. We had a great mix of youth, x factor and experienced heads sprinkled through the squad with plenty of physicality on top. The best memory was Stacey's solo try in the grand final – one of the best ever!
WAIRANGI KOOPU (#64)
My favourite memory … standing behind Stace as he dribbled a kick in behind the Sharks’ defensive line, watching it run end over end almost in slow motion and then a flying John Carlaw snatching it out of mid-air and scoring near the posts to put us through to the grand final.
FRANCIS MELI (#65)
Too many good memories! One that stands out is being part of history in the club. In 2001 we made the top eight for the first time ever; even so we lost our first play off.
In 2002 I was part of the first time the club finished table leaders. In that year we were so young but believed in ourselves. We had the feeling that losing a game didn't cross our minds regardless of whether we were down. As a team everybody played their part and had faith in each other. That was our backbone – knowing that no one would do anything to let someone else down.
To beat the Sharks in the semi was like a dream come true or more like: “Is this really happening? We’re playing in the grand final!”
Running out on the field for the grand final is something I will never forget, not about the fact we lost but how our journey got us there. We changed our mind-set as young men from what we learnt from 2001.
The jersey came about through (coach) Daniel Anderson and the management. They changed it to black because teams feared the All Blacks and were dominated by them. We made that jersey our own that year.
CLINTON TOOPI (#86)
For me personally 2002 was the pinnacle of my career. That particular year had so many life-changing experiences, memorable moments and monumental achievements that are etched in the club’s and New Zealand rugby league’s history but also my playing career.
I have so many significant memories that have a special place in my heart, from the first time we beat the Broncos on their own soil to the Raiders at home when everyone came from far and wide to celebrate and witness our first-ever home semi-final and win. That was a game where we were able to give our loyal supporters and the rugby league community a big thank you for their unwavering support.
IVAN CLEARY (#73)
Playing at Mount Smart in some big games in 2002 where there were huge crowds going crazy are my fondest memories. Wins against heavyweights the Bulldogs and the Broncos plus the home semi against the Raiders are memories that can never be erased. I love that stadium and the Warriors crowd are a special bunch.
MARK TOOKEY (#76)
My favourite memory was when we beat Cronulla in the final to go into the grand final. Eric Watson paid for tickets for Kiwis living in Australia and it felt like a home game. They were doing the haka in the grandstands everywhere and when we arrived back in New Zealand there were thousands of our supporters waiting at the airport.
That year I also remember on about six or seven occasions standing next to Kevin Campion after a game watching him get another 20 odd stitches in his face or head. I think it became so regular that Mick Watson, our CEO at the time, asked if he could do a few stitches for him.
What a great year!
SHONTAYNE HAPE (#80)
There was great bunch of guys at the club that season. To this day I keep in touch with lots of them. There was just such a buzz around the club and the whole country as we went through to not only win the minor premiership but to then go all the way to the grand final. Daniel Anderson to this day rates as one of the best coaches I had in my career.
HENRY FA’AFILI (#81)
There are a few good memories from that year so where to start?
The week of the grand final was unreal, just the everyday banter from the boys and Ando. Another was being part of the first team to play at Westpac Stadium in Wellington and to be one of the three players to score a try in our famous comeback against the Bulldogs that ended up with a draw.
Kempy's video sessions were always a laugh at the end of them when he’d be mocking a particular player.
Basically the best memory for me is rewarding the crowd by scoring tries and adding a bit of flavour with the try celebration at the end of them!
KEVIN CAMPION (#86)
Obviously making the grand final was my highlight that year and Stacey's try was just unbelievable. There were plenty of other highlights as well. One of them was Mick Watson stitching my head one day!
RICHARD VILLASANTI (#87)
Other boys have said it and I completely agree with them about season 2002. That was without question one of the best years of my life.
The grand final week in particular was a time I look back on with fond memories. The whole of New Zealand was behind us! The well wishes and the messages all over our hotel rooms were so humbling.
Most of all the laughs and good times we had with each other always bring a smile to my face. Such a talented team ’02.
JUSTIN MORGAN (#88)
One moment that always stands out is the welcome home at the airport after beating Cronulla to make the grand final. The place was packed, I remember a haka being done and the fans going off. There was also the welcome after the grand final when we went back to Mount Smart.
Most of all I just remember everyone getting on so well. We had a diverse group of players, basically just thrown together with a lot of pick-up players like me being given a chance but we got on so well on and off the field.
MOTU TONY (#90)
The semi against the Sharks will always be a favourite memory for me. Some of us were young players then. I’d come into the NRL only the previous season but seeing how emotional the older boys were after winning that day made us realise just how much it meant to them and how special it was what we’d just achieved. “Gee, we’ve just got to the big dance! What about that?” The whole season was unbelievable but that was the special moment for me.
JUSTIN MURPHY (#92)
Season 2002 and the memories we made will stick with me forever. It was great to be on the field playing with this group, many of who were at the top of their game. I am grateful to have been a part of it.
It still hurts thinking about the grand final but to make it was pretty special. I always look forward to catching up with the guys. The friendships made are something I always cherish.
To have the support of not only the Warriors faithful but Auckland and the whole of New Zealand right behind us also lifted us. These days I love supporting the team and going to games whenever I can. I can't wait to watch the first Warriors team bring home the trophy!
IAFETA PALEAAESINA (#93)
A couple of my favourite memories from 2002 were playing alongside some great players who I used to idolise watching on TV, the likes of Monty Betham, Kevin Campion, Ali Lauitiiti, Logan Swann, Awen Guttenbeil, Stacey Jones just to name a few. I still keep in touch with a lot of the players from that season.
That team making the grand final was the highlight and greatest memory for me. It’s still something that I'm very proud of, just being a part of the club that year.
P J MARSH (#96)
The whole 2002 season is still so clear in mind. It was such a fantastic time; I really remember it like it was yesterday. There’s no doubt about my favourite moment – Stacey’s try in the grand final. It was an unbelievable try and it always comes up in grand final highlights. Then there was the semi against the Sharks. There were some great moments in that match, too, but the whole year was like that and it’s an experience I’ll always treasure.
I’ve still got the playing shorts from that season and I’ve been wearing them around a lot lately. My father had them on a few weeks ago and I asked him where he got them from. He said: “Where do you think? From you. You gave them to me.” I got them back off him! That was a great kit. The whole club is great. I just loved my time with the Warriors and I still love the club so much today.
BRENT WEBB (#97)
The most vivid memory for me is definitely my NRL debut against Newcastle at home, coming off the bench and scoring a try although we lost the game. The other favourite highlight was our (26-16) win over the Broncos at ANZ Stadium, the first time we’d beaten them in Brisbane. That was huge. I was on the bench again and scored a couple that day. While I didn’t play in the finals I just have so many great memories of that season.
LANCE HOHAIA (#99)
The memories that stand out for the 2002 season for me are probably the beginning and the end of that year. I made my debut in round four and that will always be a fond memory. We beat the Cowboys fairly convincingly and I scored a try. I still remember that feeling of running in to score to this day and to then go on to play in the grand final that same year was just awesome. Stacey's try was a highlight and, even though we lost the game, I was happy about all we accomplished that year.
VINNIE ANDERSON (#100)
One of my favourite memories is John Carlaw scoring the try that put us through to the grand final. It was such a big moment for the club and we were all ecstatic.
Another favourite is Kevin Campion touching up Shane Webcke when we played the Broncos at Mount Smart Stadium. Everyone knew we were a skilful team but I think that moment really showed the competition that we were also tough and wouldn't stand for any crap. We were about to head into the play-offs, so the timing was perfect.