Flashback Friday: Lion Red Cup 1994-96
This week’s Flashback Friday revisits a brief, but memorable, pocket of Canterbury Rugby League history – the three-season existence of the Canterbury Country Cardinals and the Christchurch City Shiners in the Lion Red Cup premiership, which kicked off 25 years ago.
The ambitious domestic 22-round, 12-team competition – also drawing clubs from Auckland and surrounding districts, Wellington, Hutt Valley, Hawkes Bay, Waikato, Taranaki and Bay of Plenty – featured a plethora of former, current and future Kiwi internationals.
The Gerard Stokes-coached Cardinals – drawing from CRL clubs Halswell, Papanui, Hornby, Lincoln University and Marist-Western Suburbs – were one of the standouts of the ’94 competition, finishing fourth in the minor premiership with a 15-5-2 record and reaching the preliminary final, where they were bundled out by the Counties-Manukau Heroes.
They fielded Kiwi reps and Canterbury provincial stars Phil Bancroft, Logan Edwards, Blair Harding, Paul Johnson, Mark Nixon and Aaron Whittaker, along with the likes of Shane Endacott, Tevita Vaikona, Maea David and Jason Duff. Three-quarter Henry Sulavale, who went on to play 20 first grade games Sydney City Roosters and Gold Coast Chargers, led the competition’s tryscoring table with 18 touchdowns.
The Shiners, whose feeder clubs included Addington, Sydnenham and Linwood, were coached by former Kiwi Test hooker Wayne Wallace, but did not fare as well in that ’94 campaign, winning six games to finish second-last. Their most notable players in an injury-ravaged season included former Kiwis Marty Crequer and Simon Angell, ex-North Sydney Bear Andrew Vincent, and captain Brett Rodger.
Both sides played out of the Addington Showgrounds, while the Cardinals racked up a 21-point victory over the Shiners in the inaugural Canterbury derby.
Following the departure of a handful of stars to the Australian and English premierships, the Cardinals slipped to 10th in each of the next two Lion Red Cup seasons. Future Test stalwart David Kidwell turned out for the club in 1995.
The Shiners, playing under a new coach in Lex Clarke and boosted by the cross-town defection of Endacott and Harding, put together a spectacular nine-match winning streak during ’95, ultimately finishing sixth and missing the finals by a solitary point. But the departure of Clarke and a host of key players saw the Shiners collect the wooden spoon in 1996 with just three wins.
The televised competition ran at a loss throughout its existence and was scrapped at the end of ’96, setting domestic Rugby League in New Zealand back a long way in the midst of the tumultuous Super League war that gripped the code globally.
Nevertheless, the Lion Red Cup provided plenty of emerging talents – in Canterbury and around New Zealand – with a solid launching pad for their subsequent professional careers.
The Duane Mann-led North Harbour Sea Eagles won the 1994 Grand Final, Donald Stewart captained the Sea Eagles to a second straight title in ’95 and Dean Broomfield steered the Waitakere City Raiders to the premiership in ’96.
In six Canterbury derbies, the ledger between the Cardinals and Shiners finished square at three wins apiece.
Online footage of the competition is scarce, but a video posted by former Addington Magpies and Shiners winger Tony Munnings provides an outstanding trip down memory lane of a unique era for the game in New Zealand.
CANTERBURY COUNTRY CARDINALS
Played 69: Won 32, Lost 32, Drew 5
Best finish: 4th in 1994 (preliminary finalists); won 17, lost 6, drew 2
Most appearances: Darryn Avery 68, Dale Paulsen 54, Walter Wilson 53, Rudy David 49, Scott Woodgate 48
Most tries: Darryn Avery 18, Henry Suluvale 18, Glenn Coughlan 17, Walter Wilson 16
Most points: Glenn Coughlan 238, Dale Paulsen 154, Aaron Whittaker 151, Walter Wilson 92
Most tries in a season: Henry Suluvale 18 (1994), Tevita Vaikona 14 (1994), Glenn Coughlan (1995), Mark Nixon 11 (1994), Blair Harding 9 (1996)
Most points in a season: Glenn Coughlan 182 (1995), Aaron Whittaker 136 (1994), Dale Paulsen 73 (1994), Dale Paulsen 73 (1996)
CHRISTCHURCH CITY SHINERS
Played 66: Won 21, Lost 44, Drew 1
Best finish: 6th in 1995; won 12, lost 9, drew 1
Most appearances: Gafa Tuiloma 60, Ati Mamoe 48, Andrew Scott 41, Malcolm Aldridge 39, Ricky Henry 39, Derek Liu 39
Most tries: Gafa Tuiloma 24, Ricky Henry 22, Ati Mamoe 19
Most points: Gafa Tuiloma 96, Ricky Henry 88, Ati Mamoe 76, Damien Mackie 72, Graeme Emslie 68
Most tries in a season: Gafa Tuiloma 12 (1995), Ricky Henry 12 (1996), Simon Angell 10 (1994), Blair Harding 10 (1995), Ricky Henry 10 (1995)
Most points in a season: Damien Mackie 72 (1995), Marty Crequer 66 (1994), Graeme Emslie 56 (1996)
CARDINALS V SHINERS RESULTS
1994: Round 3 – Cardinals 23 d Shiners 2; Round 14 – Cardinals 40 d Shiners 8
1995: Round 2 – Shiners 44 d Cardinals 14; Round 16 – Shiners 24 d Cardinals 20
1996: Round 11 – Shiners 24 d Cardinals 20; Round 22 – Cardinals 14 d Shiners 8
Photo: The Shiners’ Ati Mamoe has Ricky Henry in support, with the Cardinals’ Marty Crequer giving chase.