FLASHBACK FRIDAY: KNIGHTS SMASH RECORDS IN MAIDEN GRAND FINAL WIN
As Riccarton Knights gear up for the Friday night spotlight at Ngā Puna Wai courtesy of their Massetti Cup showdown with Hornby Panthers, Flashback Friday recalls the record-shattering 2002 grand final performance that delivered the club its first premiership.
Originally a premier club in 1931, Riccarton was an intermittent participant in Canterbury Rugby League’s top grade. During the first 34 seasons of the grand final era (1967 onwards), the club only fielded a premier team in 1976 and 1996-97.
But Riccarton returned to the CRL big time in 2001 and a watershed triumph would take just two seasons to achieve.
The Knights finished the 2002 regular season atop the Massetti Cup table with a 13-1 record – five wins clear of second-placed Papanui. The Tigers were the hard-luck story of the playoffs, giving up a 16-point lead in a 24-20 major semi loss to Riccarton and coughing up a 14-point advantage to go down 40-34 to Linwood in the preliminary final.
The Keas, chasing their first premiership since 1970, won five straight matches to qualify for the grand final. But that winning streak came to a grinding halt in the decider at the hands of the rampant Knights, who carved out a 54-14 victory.
Their capture of the Pat Smith Challenge Trophy for the first time was effectively sealed by halftime, by which stage Riccarton had raced out to a 30-6 lead.
The 10-tries-to-three demolition knocked Eastern Suburbs’ 27-2 win over Papanui in 1975 out of the history books as the biggest winning margin in a CRL grand final, while Riccarton also racked up the highest score in a decider – beating Halswell’s 38 points in its defeat of Papanui two years earlier.
But the most extraordinary new entries in the record books came courtesy of the Knights’ captain and halfback, Aaron Whittaker. The 33-year-old former Kiwi demolished grand final records for tries and points in a match, dotting down five times and adding six goals for a 32-point haul.
Whittaker already held the grand final record for most goals, booting seven in the Hornets’ aforementioned 2000 win.
Coached by Brent Ringdahl, the Knights’ line-up included another New Zealand Test rep, 34-year-old back-rower Logan Edwards (main image), who defied a dodgy knee to produce an influential display.
Centre Hamish Barclay, the season’s leading try-scorer, and Vince Whare were among the Knights players to get over the stripe. Future Riccarton premiers coach Jamie Lester partnered Riki Barclay in the second-row.
The Andy Wihare-coached Keas also featured many familiar names. Veteran Andrew Vincent partnered captain Maurice Emslie in the halves. Decorated Linwood and Canterbury Bulls coach Andrew Auimatagi and the late Teni Tuli were try-scorers from a pack also boasting Chris Bamford and future Warrior Kane Ferris.
The landslide result was Riccarton’s second significant win over Linwood in 2002, also dominating the mid-season final of the Mainland Super 10, a competition featuring the eight CRL premier clubs along with Otago (represented by University) and Southland, 42-22.
The clubs squared off in another grand final just two years later, with Whittaker leading the Knights to a 33-14 victory. The Keas finally snapped their title drought in 2005 – and broke a couple of the Knights’ grand final records along the way – with a 66-10 rout of the Panthers.
CRL 2002 GRAND FINAL
Riccarton Knights 54 (Aaron Whittaker 5, Buck Hawkins, Vince Whare, Ben Coffin, Hamish Barclay, Shane Lange tries; Whittaker 6, Glen Barron goals) defeated Linwood Keas 14 (Andrew Auimatagi, Jason McDougall, Teni Tuli tries; John McLaughlin goal). Halftime: Riccarton 30-6. Referee: Gary Smallridge.
Riccarton Knights: Tim Gleeson, Glen Barron, Hamish Barclay, Shane Lange, Buck Hawkins, Ben Coffin, Aaron Whittaker (c), Colin Ritchie, Mike Wright, Vince Whare, Jamie Lester, Riki Barclay, Logan Edwards. Interchange: Paul Condon, Dwayne Grenfell, Jeremy Henry, Misa Falala. Coach: Brent Ringdahl.
Linwood Keas: John McLaughlin, Sam Lemalie, Jason McDougall, Siona Tuiloma, Alex Davis, Andrew Vincent, Maurice Emslie (c), Damian Horgan, Andrew Auimatagi, Kane Ferris, Chris Bamford, Teni Tuli, Damian Kemp. Interchange: Nathan Horgan, Alex Mealamu, Dean Heke, Casey Rastrick. Coach: Andy Wihare.