CANTERBURY’S GREATEST TRIUMPH – 30 YEARS ON
This month marks 30 years since arguably Canterbury’s greatest-ever victory – the unforgettable thrashing of Auckland at the Addington Showgrounds in the 1993 provincial championship final.
During the ’93 championship round-robin fixtures, Frank Endacott-coached Canterbury trounced Auckland 40-12 in Christchurch before going down 9-6 at Carlaw Park to set up another showdown in the final.
Auckland coach Owen Wright controversially drafted in Britain-based professionals Tawera Nikau, Craig Innes, Duane Mann, Se’e Solomona, and brothers Tea and Iva Ropati for the decider, while Canterbury’s only ‘import’ was Brendon Tuuta.
Endacott had no problems with Auckland stacking its side, however.
“It is still a case of 13 guys in blue and white jerseys against 13 from Canterbury,” he said confidently in the lead-up to the final.
“If anything, Owen Wright has done my motivational work for me and I believe that Auckland’s combination could suffer from the introduction of so many newcomers.
“What we need is a big parochial Canterbury crowd. They will see one hell of a performance from Canterbury no matter what the result. Don’t be surprised if we knock these big names over.”
Endacott’s wish was granted, with a record crowd of an estimated 10,000 turning out at the Showgrounds – and his charges blew the big-name Aucklanders off the park.
Canterbury powered to a 16-0 lead by halftime and went on with the job in the second stanza, racking up an emphatic seven-tries-to-two, 36-12 triumph.
Tuuta was a deserving man-of-the-match, outplaying Test lock Nikau, but there were heroes all over the paddock for Canterbury. Blair Harding, making his first start for the province in the centres, scored two tries; second-rower Logan Edwards (pictured) brilliantly laid on a pair of four-pointers and bagged one himself; the experienced Marty Crequer had a blinder at fullback, as did captain Mark Nixon at five-eighth; Brent Stuart led the way up front; and Mike Culley outshone Test hooker Mann with a try and four goals.
It rated as one of the greatest days in Canterbury Rugby League’s 82-season history and still holds a treasured place in the code’s narrative in this region a three decades on.
The comprehensive nature of the win certainly made an impression on the New Zealand selectors, who named Stuart, Nixon, Taewa and newcomers Edwards, Harding, Aaron Whittaker, Simon Angell and Paul Johnson for the Kiwis’ tour of Great Britain and France at the end of the year.
Endacott recounted the triumph for Canterbury Rugby League in 2015: “That was so far above the other wins it wasn’t funny. It was like a dream come true. To see the Showgrounds so packed that they had to turn people away from the gate, which I don’t think has ever happened before or since, and people wearing red and black everywhere and they just absolutely supported us 100 percent.
“Even the Canterbury rugby union team was there, and their management. They used to come to a number of our games at that time. Unfortunately, they weren’t having success at that time, but they came down and supported us which was great – because we were having plenty (of success). It was a great period of time and that 1993 final will never be forgotten.”
The match also marked the end of an era on several fronts. After taking over the provincial reins in 1989 and leading a wonderful Canterbury renaissance in the ensuing four year, Endacott succeeded Howie Tamati as Kiwis coach in 1994 as well as preparing to become Auckland Warriors’ inaugural reserve grade coach. Wally Wilson took over as Canterbury coach, overseeing another win over Auckland in what was a heavily truncated representative program (Canterbury played just two matches) due to the introduction of the Lion Red Cup.
Meanwhile, the advent of fulltime professionalism signalled the end of current Kiwis turning out in domestic football. But Canterbury’s ’93 efforts certainly ensured a halcyon period of provincial football went out with a bang.
1993 First Division Championship final
Canterbury 36 (Blair Harding 2, Marty Crequer, Mike Doreen, Simon Angell, Mike Culley, Logan Edwards tries; Culley 4 goals) defeated Auckland 12 (Tea Ropati, Duane Mann tries; Patrick Hellesoe, Hitro Okesene goals) at Addington Showgrounds. Halftime: Canterbury 16-0. Referee: Rodney Horn (Bay of Plenty).
Canterbury: Marty Crequer, Mike Doreen, Blair Harding, Brett Rodger, Whetu Taewa, Mark Nixon (c), Aaron Whittaker, Brent Stuart, Mike Culley, Ron Simanu, Simon Angell, Logan Edwards, Brendon Tuuta. Interchange: Justin Wallace, Paul Johnson, Andrew Vincent, Shane Ngataki. Coach: Frank Endacott.
Sources: Lion Red Rugby League Annual 1993 compiled by Bernie Wood; The Hard Yards: Rugby League in Canterbury 1912-2012 by John Coffey.