Just a glimpse of the jersey is enough. It instantly shouts: 2003.
And now 20 years on the strip has been remastered as the One New Zealand Warriors’ 2023 Heritage jersey to be worn, fittingly, in the club’s historic first match against competition newcomers the Dolphins at Mount Smart Stadium on Saturday, June 3.
In its home and away forms, the 2003 jersey is indelibly associated with one of the greatest seasons in the club’s existence.
Following on from the momentous maiden grand final appearance in 2002, the black and silver jersey was beloved for its simplicity including the distinctive collar.
The 2003 jersey’s 20th anniversary outing comes in a season when the club’s 2023 team mirrors the qualities of resilience and toughness that set the ’03 side apart. Just as the Monty Betham-led Warriors stayed in the fight with opponents so too does the 2023 team which has hung tough with all comers in the opening 10 rounds of the season.
If the sight of the jersey shouts 2003 then it positively screams names associated with wearing it – Betham, Jones, Faumuina, Villasanti, Seuseu, Toopi, Meli, Fa’afili, Lauitiiti, Swann, Webb, Leuluai, Koopu, Paleaaesina, Tookey, Marsh (until he was injured) and many more.
The body of the 2002 side remained but key elements emerged, not least in the shape of the dynamic Brent Webb, rookie Thomas Leuluai, the unstoppable Sione Faumuina and the barnstorming Iafeta Paleaaesina plus the addition of the fearsome Betham who missed most of 2002 with injury. They gave the team another dimension.
After starting the season with a first-round loss to Newcastle, a run of five wins followed.
There was some patchiness in the middle section of the campaign but a strong finish enabled the Warriors to finish the regular season in sixth place.
It was a time which just might have delivered more unforgettable contests than any other year in the club’s history:
Round 5 | v Brisbane, ANZ Stadium | Won 32-12
A match which surely ranks among the club’s all-time classics, the day the Warriors ran rampant scoring six tries to two in Brisbane’s backyard. One moment, one try stands alone – the outrageous ball handling, above all Faumuina’s alley oop pass, for Evarn Tuimavave to score. Worth listening to the commentary over and over.
Round 16 | v South Sydney, Sydney Football Stadium | Won 31-30
The Rabbitohs were 18 points clear at 24-6 deep into the contest when the Warriors unleashed with four tries within 12 minutes. Stunners they were, none more so than the one finished off by Toopi after Paleaaesina exploded from the back from a restart. Jones converted all four for a 30-24 lead. The Bunnies levelled up at 30-30 in the final seconds before Jones answered the call with a golden point field goal.
Round 19 | v Cronulla Sutherland, Shark Park | Won 31-24
It was 24-24 when Jones slotted a one pointer for a 25-24 lead with three minutes to go. Brett Kimmorley had a chance to respond in type but fluffed his attempt, winger Justin Murphy swooping to collect the miscue and beating four defenders to run the length of the field to seal it.
Round 24 | v Brisbane, Mount Smart Stadium | Won 22-14
A contest as brutal and unforgettable as any seen at Mount Smart Stadium, one that never fell below finals quality from the first minute to the last. The Broncos had guns galore and were in desperate mood to keep their finals hopes alive after four straight losses. The Warriors had the same intent. These were the days of big hits and brawls. Richard Villasanti stunned Webcke with a ferocious shot and there was also a mass brawl with Betham, Koopu and Guttenbeil swinging hard. When it calmed down referee Bill Harrigan banished Betham and Koopu plus Brisbane’s Casey McGuire and Carl Webb to the bin reducing the game to 11 v 11 for 10 minutes. And then there was Francis Meli’s seismic hit which flattened Brent Tate. The contest was locked at 4-4 at halftime before the Warriors went on to win an absolute belter of a match 22-14 (four tries to two).
Finals Week 1 | v Bulldogs, Sydney Showground | Won 48-22
After putting together consecutive wins over Brisbane, the Roosters and the Wests Tigers, the Warriors finished the regular season in sixth spot, setting up a week one finals clash against the third-placed Bulldogs. After turning on some razzle dazzle in the first half they led 16-4 at the break only to allow the Bulldogs to level up at 16-16. Then the switch flicked to way beyond razzle dazzle in the most withering scoring assault imaginable in a finals match. Tries rained in as the Warriors unleashed their full arsenal of attacking threats with Jones orchestrating and Meli, Faumuina, Webb, Toopi and Tony creating havoc. Meli scored a finals record five tries as the Warriors piled on nine tries in all to blow the Dogs apart.
Finals Week 2 | v Canberra, Sydney Football Stadium | Won 17-16
From freewheeling Harlem Globetrotters style one week, it was all grind a week later against the Raiders. In a contest of more familiar finals intensity the Warriors fell 0-10 down before replying with tries to Logan Swann and Clinton Toopi to level it up at 10-10 at halftime. A Henry Fa’afili try had them ahead 16-10 before the Raiders squared things up at 16-16 with more than 20 minutes to play. Canberra had a late opportunity to seal it but centre Jason Bulgarelli fumbled with the line in sight. With three minutes remaining the Warriors calmly organised themselves for Jones to pilot the match-winning field goal in a gripping battle.
THEY WORE THE JERSEY IN 2003