Our first Flashback Friday of 2024 marks a milestone anniversary of one of the greatest West Coast Rugby League club achievements of the 1990s.

At Saturday’s historic CRL Whitehead Plumbing & Gas Men’s Premiership season-opening clash at Wingham Park between Greymouth Greyhounds and Halswell Hornets, the 1994 Waro-Rakau Hornets will assemble to celebrate 30 years since their stunning Thacker Shield victory over Papanui Tigers.

Waro-Rakau powered to a second straight premiership in the West Coast competition in 1994, thrashing Runanga 42-8 in the grand final. Papanui regained Canterbury Rugby League supremacy via a 14-4 grand final defeat of Halswell.

A week later, the victorious outfits met to contest the Thacker Shield, which had remained in Canterbury since Hornby snapped Runanga’s three-year reign in 1982.

Though the Lion Red Cup had diluted Canterbury’s clubs’ player strength, few saw a result like Waro-Rakau’s 40-4 rout of a rejigged Papanui line-up coming.

The triumph was especially memorable for the Mahuika family. Lester Mahuika had led Waro-Rakau to its previous Thacker Shield win, 18-16 over Papanui in 1978. Two sons and a nephew featured in the Hornets’ 1994 victory: Craig skippered the side and scored a try, Dean crossed for a double and Jason – a three-try star a week earlier in the grand final – booted six goals.

Winning Waro-Rakau player-coach Craig Hiha (left), 1978 captain Lester Mahuika (centre) and 1994 skipper Craig Mahuika (right).

Player-coach Craig Hiha, veteran prop Kevin Kilkelly and back-rower Ritchie Banks were also prominent for the Hornets, who led 20-0 at halftime. The Donaldson brothers, Simon and Warren, both dotted down. Blair Harding, a 1993 Kiwi, scored a late consolation try for the Tigers from his uncustomary spot in the second-row.

As John Coffey recounted in Lion Red Rugby League Annual 1994, Gibson Sawmills Ltd – a major employer of Waro-Rakau players at Ngahere – declared the next day a holiday, while the Railway Hotel in Greymouth supplied free beer.

The Hornets’ victory was the biggest by a West Coast club in a Thacker Shield showdown since Blackball humbled Sydenham 53-13 in 1950.

It was a memorable chapter in a vintage year for West Coast Rugby League. The representative side defeated Canterbury XIII to kick off an unbeaten campaign that culminated in the Transvasin Provincial Championship title, beating out Northland, Manawatu, Gisborne-East Coast, Southland and Otago.

Waro-Rakau would retain the Thacker Shield in 1995 with a similarly emphatic 48-16 victory over Halswell in a clash of the Hornets. Ironically, Papanui (the Greyhounds’ Premier Reserves affiliate) and Halswell will face off in Greymouth in tomorrow’s ISC Canterbury Cup curtain-raiser.

Cobden-Kohinoor Keas were the last West Coast club to carry off the Thacker Shield under the traditional format, defeating Hornby Panthers 30-10 in 1997. A West Coast Chargers combination rolled Linwood Keas in 2017.

The prize was revived as a challenge shield last year – with the Greyhounds claiming it via a win over the Tigers and defending it successfully throughout the season by winning their remaining ISC Canterbury Cup regular-season games at Wingham Park.


Winning Waro-Rakau player-coach Craig Hiha (left), 1978 captain Lester Mahuika (centre) and 1994 skipper Craig Mahuika (right).
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