Ahead of the SENZ Canterbury Bulls’ opening NZRL National Premiership clash with Counties Manukau Stingrays on Saturday at Ngā Puna Wai, Flashback Friday relives a famous, drought-breaking win by the red-and-blacks over our archrivals from the north.

Canterbury had only defeated Auckland three times in more than three-quarters of a century: at Monica Park in 1926, at Addington Show Grounds in 1962, and a historic triumph under Gary Clarke’s coaching at Carlaw Park in 1975.

Frank Endacott’s initial 1989 season as Canterbury coach had been a difficult one results-wise, but he blooded a host of young players who went on to underpin the province’s unprecedented success during the early-1990s.

There were few signs Endacott’s side was about to add to its modest list of victories over New Zealand rugby league’s perennial powerhouse in 1990, however, when they crashed to a humiliating 42-2 loss to Wellington just five days out from a daunting assignment against Auckland.

But Canterbury defied their capitulation in the capital to stun even their most optimistic supporters by storming out to a 21-2 halftime lead against Auckland at the Show Grounds. Veteran captain Wayne Wallace and halves Justin Wallace and Phil Smith scored tries, while Mike Culley slotted four goals and Carl Hall snuck in a field goal.

The Auckland side contained four players – Sam Panapa, Dean Clark, Peter Brown and Tawera Nikau – who went on to play in New Zealand’s Test series against Great Britain two months later, as well as former Halswell champion Phil Bancroft, and future Kiwis Richie Blackmore, Iva Ropati and Tony Tuimavave.

The visitors’ class began to shine through in the second half, and with a strong breeze at their backs Auckland had surged to a 22-21 lead with 15 minutes remaining courtesy of four unanswered tries.

Canterbury appeared set to record yet another near miss against Auckland, until mercurial Marist back-rower Logan Edwards (main picture) – who had already tackled himself to a standstill – found the resolve to beat two defenders and cross for the match-winning try.

Young Canterbury winger Whetu Taewa searches for a gap against Auckland, 1990.

“I’ve waited 12 years for that,” an ecstatic – and relieved – Wayne Wallace said post-match.

“All I’ve managed before (against Auckland) was a couple of draws. But I though we’d blown this one, too.”

The result saw Auckland leave the Rugby League Cup behind in Christchurch.

Of course, that was not Canterbury’s only watershed win in season 1990, which peaked with an 18-10 boilover against Great Britain in June. Thirteen of the heroes from the Auckland upset backed up for win over the Lions, with Aaron Whittaker and Peter Kaisa the new inclusions.

Those results set the tone for the next three years, which included two more wins and a draw against Auckland – culminating in an iconic 36-12 thrashing in the 1993 National Premiership final in Christchurch.

Canterbury 25 (Justin Wallace, Wayne Wallace, Phil Smith, Logan Edwards tries; Mike Culley 4 goals; Carl Hall field goal) defeated Auckland 22 (Warren Mann, Sam Panapa, Tawera Nikau, Taime Tagaloa tries; Phil Bancroft 3 goals) at Addington Show Grounds, Christchurch on April 29, 1990.

CANTERBURY: Carl Hall, Whetu Taewa, Mike Dorreen, Mark Nixon, Brett Rodger, Justin Wallace, Phil Smith, Ricky Cowan, Wayne Wallace (c), Ron Simanu, Gary Leck, Mike Culley, Logan Edwards. Reserves: Simon Angell, Lance Setu. Coach: Frank Endacott

Source: Lion Red Rugby League Annual 1990 – John Coffey

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