Auckland, the home of the Warriors and the NRL Nines, has become one of the hubs of the rugby league world. Flashback Friday takes you back to a historic day for the code in New Zealand’s biggest city – it’s first-ever premiership match, between Manly and Newcastle early in the 1992 season.
The competing teams were shrewdly chosen by the NSWRL: the Sea Eagles, despite missing injured fullback Matthew Ridge, contained New Zealand Test stars Darrell Williams and Tony and Kevin Iro, while they were coached by famed ex-Kiwis mentor Graham Lowe. Meanwhile, the Knights boasted Kiwi reps Tony Kemp and Sam Stewart, and former All Black John Schuster.
A crowd of 17,368 packed out a muddy Carlaw Park, the spiritual home of rugby league in New Zealand, for the maiden premiership match played outside Australia – and the throng was treated to one of 1992’s most dramatic encounters.
Newcastle’s rookie halfback Matthew Rodwell scored the historic first try after 18 minutes, but Manly reduced the halftime deficit to two points with an incredible team four-pointer after the siren from a Knights line dropout. Michael O’Connor and Cliff Lyons each handled twice before hometown hero Williams – deputising at fullback for injured compatriot Ridge – raced away to score next to the posts.
Knights skipper Michael Hagan extended the lead to 12-6, but the Sea Eagles hit the front for the first time with 11 minutes remaining after a try to Craig Hancock and an O’Connor field goal. Time was running out on Newcastle, but in the 77th minute Hagan, Stewart and Kemp combined to send Ashley Gordon over in the corner.
Kemp’s pass to Gordon was conspicuously forward, leaving the Sea Eagles’ legendary Kiwi coach Graham Lowe and the largely pro-Manly crowd additionally chagrined after the 16-13 loss.