Ahead of Sunday’s trial match between the One New Zealand Warriors and Melbourne Storm at Rugby League Park (currently Orangetheory Stadium) – the first match between NRL teams in the city for almost four years – our first Flashback Friday of 2023 relives a landmark Christchurch encounter between the Canterbury provincial team and the fledgling Auckland Warriors.

The Warriors’ clash with the Storm sees the club come full circle as it heads into its 29th season – the Warriors’ first-ever trial match was against Canterbury on the very same patch of turf.

A record 12,811-strong crowd packed out the Addington Show Grounds as Warriors-mania gripped New Zealand in early-1995.

Warriors cult hero Hitro Okesene busts the Canterbury defence

The advent of the Auckland Warriors had thinned out Canterbury’s ranks, with Simon Angell, Logan Edwards, Mike Dorreen, Jason Duff, Takofe Kalauta and Whetu Taewa all signing on for the club’s entry to the Australian premiership.

The Warriors sent a star-studded squad south, including the mercurial Phil Blake and Kiwi internationals Tea Ropati, Gene Ngamu, Gavin Hill, Hitro Okesene, Tony Tatupu, Duane Mann and foundation captain Dean Bell. The new-look, Lex Clarke-coached Canterbury side was skippered by hooker Patrick Kiely, and featured Glenn Coughlan at lock and an experienced three-quarter line with Blair Harding, Aaron Vincent and Walter Wilson.

The home side held the Warriors to just a 4-2 lead at halftime. Martin Moana scored the visitors’ first try from a Tatupu offload. Warriors half Willie Swann and Papanui product Kalauta dotted down in the final quarter as they kicked out to a comfortable lead.

But second-rower Darryn Avery – arguably Canterbury’s best on the day – and Kiely struck back with tries in quick succession to peg the final scoreline back to a commendable 26-12. Harding was another standout on attack and defence up against fellow Kiwi centres Ropati and Bell.

Canterbury centre Blair Harding crunches Warriors playmaker Gene Ngamu

The Warriors went on to win 13 off their 22 debut-season games but missed the finals on for-and-against, with two points stripped after an interchange bungle proving costly. Back-rower Edwards, Warrior #21, was the pick of the club’s Canterbury recruits, playing in 15 first-grade games. Warrior #5 Taewa (11 games) and Warrior #25 Dorreen (four games) also made their mark.

A limited domestic rep schedule in 1995 saw Canterbury defeat West Coast 28-14 on Anzac Day and edge Auckland 16-15 in a Queen’s Birthday weekend ‘friendly’. But Canterbury surrendered the Rugby League Cup courtesy of a 21-18 loss to Auckland at the Show Grounds, bringing the red-and-blacks’ era of dominance to an end.

Coughlan won the ’95 Canterbury Player of the Year award after also starring in Halswell’s epic grand final win over Linwood.


Auckland Warriors 26 defeated Canterbury 12 (Darryn Avery, Patrick Kiely tries; Glenn Coughlan 2 goals) at Addington Show Grounds, Christchurch, January 18, 1995. Halftime: Warriors 4-2. Crowd: 12,811.

CANTERBURY: D Mackie, G Tuiloma, B Harding, A Vincent, W Wilson, M Taylor, J Nixon, Rudy David, P Kiely (c), P Johnson, D Avery, N Tacon, G Coughlan. Int: D Paulsen, T Niha, G Emslie, T Arona, L Johnstone, N Beirne Roy David, V Mulipola. Coach: Lex Clarke.

Source: John Coffey – Lion Red Rugby League Annual 1995.

Photo Credits: NRL Photos

Warriors hooker Duane Mann looks for the offload

Warriors winger Sean Hoppe is rounded up by the Canterbury defence

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