FLASHBACK FRIDAY: A TRIO OF PAPANUI-HALSWELL GRAND FINALS
With Papanui’s ISC Canterbury Cup clash against Halswell on Saturday a centrepiece of the Tigers’ centenary celebrations this Easter weekend, Flashback Friday revisits the most eventful period of a keen rivalry between the clubs.
Papanui and Halswell are intrinsically linked, playing annually for the Kevin Williams Memorial Trophy, named in honour of the Canterbury fullback who featured in six straight grand finals for the Tigers during the 1970s, before playing for the fledgling Hornets and coaching them to their first premiership in 1985.
Williams tragically passed away in 2001, aged 47, while holidaying in the Chatham Islands – just months after the two clubs he served so memorably had faced one another in the CRL grand final for the third time in seven seasons.
Papanui ended a 14-year title drought in 1992 with a 28-12 defeat of Sydenham in the grand final, while Halswell edged Hornby for the 1993 crown 8-6 in the decider.
The clubs finished first and second in the 1994 Massetti Cup – though the Tigers were 11 points clear of the Hornets, navigating the challenges of absentees during the inaugural Lion Red Cup better than any side.
A thrilling major semi-final between the rivals – with Papanui surging late to a 42-26 win after the scores were locked 26-all with 16 minutes left – set the scene for a fascinating grand final two weeks later.
The decider was a less free-flowing affair, with the Lex Clarke-coached Tigers carving out a 14-4 triumph after captain Blair Harding scored a late, title-sealing try.
The performance of centre Harding, a 1993 Kiwi tourist, was as pivotal as his decision to opt out of Canterbury Country Cardinals’ Lion Red Cup campaign. Shane Endacott had earlier scored 10 tries in the Tigers’ first eight games before joining the Cardinals, while the Hornets had valiantly reached another grand final despite retaining just two members of premiership-winning squad from 12 months earlier.
1994 CRL GRAND FINAL: Papanui Tigers 14 (S Butler, B Harding, T Kalauta tries; P Campbell goal) defeated Halswell Hornets 4 (G Jackson try)
Halswell responded with a heart-stopping capture of the Pat Smith Trophy in 1995, pipping Linwood 20-19 in a grand final thriller. Hornby Panthers then went back-to-back with grand final victories over the Hornets (22-16 in 1996) and Tigers (20-12 in 1997).
The 1998 season saw the second-placed Tigers and third-placed Hornets send the Massetti Cup-winning Panthers out the back door of the playoffs in straight sets – and the clubs subsequently produced one of the great grand final spectacles.
In an 11-try epic, Halswell shot out to an 18-4 lead before Brent Ringdah’s Papanui outfit produced a CRL grand final record comeback to ultimately prevail 27-22.
Powerhouse Kreskin David was the catalyst for the turnaround. He barged over for a crucial try before halftime, crossed for two second-half tries, produced a barnstorming run in the lead-up to Chris Walker’s four-pointer and made the break to send centre partner and skipper Harding away for the go-ahead try.
Remarkably, just two of the avalanche of tries was converted in a horror day for goalkickers.
Harding and halfback Grant Downing were the survivors of the Tigers’ 1992 and ’94 successes, while prop Rudy David had played in the ’92 grand final. Their experience was crucial to toppling a Phil Prescott-coached Hornets side that had former Kiwis half Aaron Whittaker as its linchpin, in a match that set a new record for the most points in a Canterbury grand final.
1998 CRL GRAND FINAL: Papanui Tigers 27 (K David 3, C Walker, B Harding, J Kelly tries; Harding goal; G Downing field goal) defeated Halswell Hornets 22 (B Taylor 2, N Barber, J Manning, S Beyers tries; A Whittaker goal)
Again bouncing back from a grand final loss to Papanui, Halswell won the 1999 title with a dominant 30-12 win over Hornby in the decider.
A year later, the Hornets and Tigers met on Canterbury Rugby League’s biggest stage once again. In the 2000 grand final, the Hornets fielded 14 survivors from their previous two premiership wins, while just two Tigers – winger Duane Peterson and interchange Kyle Reuben – remained from the ’98 triumph.
Table-topping Halswell was the hot favourite but had to dig deep to lift the Pat Smith Trophy. The scores were locked 20-all midway through the second half when Whittaker’s missed field goal attempt proved a turning point, taking an unkind bounce for the Tigers and handing possession back to the Hornets.
Chris Baxter-coached Halswell broke the deadlock with a try after three consecutive sets in possession and crossed twice more in the latter stages to clinch a 38-20 victory, a scoreline that did not give a true indication of a gripping grand final battle.
2000 CRL GRAND FINAL: Halswell Hornets 38 (R Rhodes, R Edwards, D Champion, B Williams, M Aldridge, J Manning tries; A Whittaker 7 goals) Papanui Tigers 20 (A Curd 2, W Anglem, K Reuben tries; G Cook 2 goals)
Halswell’s threepeat quest was foiled in the 2001 grand final by Hornby. It would not be until 2002 that the first grand final since 1990 that did not feature the Tigers or Hornets eventuated – ironically with Whittaker scoring five tries and 32 points in Riccarton Knights’ 54-14 defeat of Linwood Keas.
Halswell went on to claim further premierships in 2003, 2011 and 2014 – the latter after losing a pair of nail-biting grand finals to Hornby in 2012-13. Papanui’s next grand final appearance was in 2008, a loss to Linwood, before the Tigers turned the tables on the Keas in a 2015 extra-time classic to snap the club’s longest post-World War II premiership drought.