As the start of the Rockcote Canterbury Bulls’ NZRL Premiership campaign draws near, this week’s Flashback Friday celebrates the province’s memorable 1985 season, in which it clinched the Rugby League Cup.

The code was enjoying a resurgence in New Zealand during the mid-1980s courtesy of the Graham Lowe-coached Kiwis’ drought-breaking Test wins over Australia in 1983 and ’85, with a 3-0 cleansweep of the touring Great Britain side sandwiched in between in 1984.

In ’85, Canterbury embarked on a three-match tour of the North Island and returned unbeaten, accounting for Taranaki, Waikato and Wellington. A hat-trick by centre Steve Prescott spearheaded a 22-16 win over Taranaki in New Plymouth to snare the Rugby League Cup – Canterbury’s maiden capture of the trophy in the North Island.

The Ray Haffenden-coached Canterbury side drew a 5,000-strong crowd to Addington Showgrounds – the biggest attendance at a provincial match in over two decades – for the Cup challenge against Auckland, and the throng was treated to one of the great matches between the inter-island archrivals.

During a frantic final nine minutes in which 22 points were scored, young Canterbury prop Brent Todd popped a pass that Paul Truscott toed ahead to score at the death, snatching a 22-all result and retaining the Rugby League Cup.

Canterbury rebuffed subsequent challenges by West Coast (16-all) and Wellington (10-4), while they also trumped visiting English club St Helens 30-24 in another thriller. The year ended on a sour note via a 21-8 loss to Waikato in the provincial championship final at Huntly, but it had nevertheless been a watershed year for the red-and-blacks.

The 1985 Canterbury side also included the likes of Barry Edkins, Adrian Shelford, Phil Bancroft, Mike Kerrigan, Mark Forsey, David Campbell, Lance Setu and Marty Crequer, while they were captained by David Field.

Current Canterbury coach Andrew Auimatagi, captain James Baxendale and the rest of the Rockcote Bulls squad will be giving their all to ensure their 2019 premiership bid gets off to the best possible start when they take on Akarana Falcons at Auckland’s Pulman Park on Saturday, September 14 at 3pm.

Sources: The Hard Yards – Rugby League in Canterbury 1912-2012, by John Coffey

Lion Red Cup Rugby League Annual 1985, edited by Bernie Wood

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