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1995 season review logo at www.theNZwarriorsonline.com

 

For much of the history of rugby league in New Zealand Auckland has been the powerhouse of the game. Playing the Auckland provincial side had long been the unofficial test match for touring French, Australian, Great Britain and PNG touring teams. By the mid 1970's Auckland RL was looking across the Tasman for tough weekly competition and after much lobbying the Auckland RL representative team was admitted into the ARL operatated AMCO cup mid-week competition in 1978. That first season for the Auckland side was an outstanding success with the Aucklanders making the semi-final stage of the cup and only bowing out to eventual winners the Eastern Suburbs Roosters. The result was even more gratifying when measured against the fact that many if not all of the professional Kiwis of the era were unavailable due to commitments with Australian, French and English clubs. It should be noted that the Wellington representative side also entered a team into the AMCO cup in 1978 but unlike there northern cousins were unable to make an indelible mark of the competition, losing 63 - 5 to a combined Illawarra side in Woolongong. Though Auckland never won the AMCO cup they continued to play in it until the early 80's. After continued growth through the 80's Auckand struck out on a tour of Great Britain and claimed victories of international studded sides Leeds and Wigan.

1995 logo of the Auckland WarriorsBy 1988 scuttlebutt around Auckland rugby league circles had galvanized into a serious bid to join the NSWRL by the indomitable Auckland club side the Mount Albert Lions. From submissions from the Mt ALbert club, Auckland rugby league and New Zealand rugby league a sustained push eventuated in news from across the Tasman. On may the 17th 1992 the NSWRL and Auckland RL ratified an agreement, with the approval of the NZRL that an Auckland side would join the NSWRL's Winfield cup starting in 1995. The Auckland sporting public really came to the party and made the decision to include the Auckland side easy with very strong support of any Winfield cup matches played in Auckland. The club would be known as the Auckland Warriors after a public voting competition was run and the name Auckland Warriors easily winning. The club would be run by the Auckland rugby league organization. The clubs colours of blue, white, red and green were choosen because of the traditional blue and white of Auckland and red and green because they were the colours of principal sponsor DB Bitter beer. The clubs logo was designed by Francis Allan of advertising company Colenso.


John Monie was the big name coach that the fledgling club badly needed for gravitas in the congested player market. CEO Ian Robson unvails former All Black John Kirwan to the media.The Australian brought with his success in both Australia and England, winning titles in both. Ian Robson, the clubs augural CEO, came from an AFL background and clearly struggled getting head around not only a new sport but a new country. Running late for his interview with the Warriors board Robson eventually arrived to admit and inform the board that he had mistakenly flown to Christchurch instead of Auckland. Robson and Monie set about luring as many big names to the new club as possible. The clubs first signing was goal kicking prop forward and future Kiwi international Gavin Hill. Quickly following Hill was Kiwi test legend Dean Bell along with seasoned test and Winfield cup players Greg Alexander and Phil Blake. Easily one of the clubs biggest signings and marketing cue was the signing of All Black and future Knight, John Kirwan (image right). Though purely of a rugby union back ground the Kirwan family name had long been associated with rugby league through John's grand father Jack in the 1920's. Kirwan, Bell weren't the only big names signed by the club's brains trust. Big name English imports Denis Betts and Andy Platt, Platt considered the best prop in the world at this stage, were considered massive cues for the Auckland club. It wouldn't be unkind to suggest that only Bell justified his pay check of the big name imports.

 

Dean Bell leads the first Warriors team onto the park against.

Inaugural Auckland Warriors skipper (image at left) Dean Bell leads the first ever Warriors side through the tunnel and onto Ericsson Stadium (now Mt Smart Stadium) for the clubs first ever game against Australian opposition in the ARL run Winfield Cup (now the NRL). The night was an outstanding success for rugby league in Auckland. Michael Mizrahi put on a pre game show still remembered by those that were lucky enough to obtain a ticket for that first night. Unfortunately for the 29,500 fans that packed into Ericsson Stadium that the result didn't go the way they were all wanting though hopes were high when the home side was leading the Broncos 22 - 10 mid way through the second half. The star studded Broncos fought back to win the game 25 - 22 when the final whistle was blown. With Manly-Warringah playing in Auckland in round 5 the house full sign went up early and indeed the biggest crowd ever for a sporting event packed into Ericsson Stadium with some 30,112 crammed in to watch Auckland loss to Manly 26 - 14. Round three's flogging of the Western Suburbs Magpies at home would prove to be a pivotal match for Auckland with coach John Monie in error with his interchange and during the game the Warriors ended up with 14 players on the field briefly and subsequently were deducted the 2 points for the competition win. Those two points would prove to be costly and ultimately lead to the club failing to make the top and make history in the process.

The Auckland Warriors had more than just one team on the paddock that first season. As well as the Winfield cup side the Warriors also fielded a reserve grade side that played a season draw that mirrored that of the senior team. This reserve grade side snuck into the top eight and eventually lost to Penrith in the quarter finals, losing 8 - 14. The Warriors colts playing in the Lion Red Cup won through to the grand final, losing to the North Harbour Sea Eagles 21 - 28. Overall the Auckland Warriors finished 7th in the ARL club championship.

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