Flashback Friday: Cardinals Upset Cougars in ’94 Lion Red Cup Semis
As the Rockcote Canterbury Bulls prepare to take on Waikato – both of whom were gallant losers in week one to the heavyweight Auckland clubs – in the NZRL National Premiership in Hamilton on Sunday, Flashback Friday revisits a high-stakes clash from yesteryear between teams from the regions.
The 1994 domestic season in New Zealand saw provincial matches effectively replaced by the inaugural 12-team, 22-round Lion Red Cup competition.
The Canterbury Cardinals – one of two Christchurch-based teams with the Christchurch City Shiners, who finished second-last – qualified for the finals in that fledgling ’94 campaign, landing fourth with 15 wins and two draws from 22 regular-season outings.
The Waikato Cougars finished second, also losing just five games but chalking up one more win than the Cardinals.
The Joe Gwynne-coached Cougars boasted Kiwi Test forwards Gavin Hill and Francis Leota in their ranks, as well as domestic stars Tukere Barlow, Daryl Beazley, Tama Hohaia, Aaron Tucker and Warriors signing Martin Moana.
Gerard Stokes’ Cardinals outfit featured local stalwarts such as Darren Avery, Glenn Coughlan, Maea David, Shane Endacott, Patrick Kiely, Te Hira Niha, Justin Wallace and Walter Wilson, and young guns Tevita Vaikona and Henry Sulavale (pictured) to complement 1993 Kiwi tourists Aaron Whittaker, Logan Edwards, Paul Johnson, Mark Nixon and Blair Harding.
The Cardinals eliminated the Auckland Vulcans in week one of the playoffs, while the Cougars went down to the North Harbour Sea Eagles in the major preliminary semi, setting up a sudden-death showdown between the inter-island rivals in week two.
Waikato and Canterbury had met twice during the premiership rounds, with the Cougars prevailing 32-27 at Addington Showgrounds in Round 7 (after trailing 21-8 at halftime) and repeating the dose 32-18 at home in Round 18.
Waikato earned the right to host the minor semi-final in Hamilton, but they were trounced by Canterbury, who had lost the likes of Whittaker late in the season to contracts with English clubs, to the tune of 32-6.
Wilson and Cardinals tryscoring machine Sulavale – who earlier in the season set a Lion Red Cup record with five tries against Bay of Plenty – each bagged doubles.
Stokes’ gamble to drop the underperforming Edwards on the eve of the match paid dividends as the fired-up Cardinals built a slender 8-6 halftime lead before dominating the second stanza and consigning the Cougars to their biggest loss of the season.
The Cardinals had one hand on a grand final berth a week later, leading Counties-Manukau Heroes 14-8 at halftime of the preliminary final before being overrun 34-16.
LION RED CUP 1994 – MINOR SEMI-FINAL
Canterbury Cardinals 32 (Henry Sulavale 2, Walter Wilson 2, Tevita Vaikona, Mark Nixon tries; Dale Paulsen 3, Glenn Coughlan goals) defeated Waikato Cougars 6 (Francis Leota try; Gavin Hill goal) at Hamilton.