Following last night’s world premiere of Sharko, the documentary about Mark Graham made by his son Luke, in Christchurch at the Doc Edge Festival last night, Flashback Friday relives the New Zealand Rugby League Player of the Century’s last match in the city.

It what ranks as one of the most dramatic and important Test matches ever staged Ōtautahi, the one-off clash between New Zealand and Great Britain at Addington Showgrounds in 1988 had more at stake than the average Kiwis v Lions encounter.

The showdown effectively became a play-off to see which nation would take on Australia in the World Cup final later that year, with competition points accrued from the last Test of every series between 1985 and ’88 deciding the finalists in a novel four-year, home-and-away World Cup format.

The Lions’ memorable 26-12 upset of Australia in the third Test in Sydney lifted Great Britain ahead of New Zealand on the World Cup table, setting up a tantalising encounter in Christchurch.

Great Britain’s boilover at the SFS had provided the tourists with confidence and favouritism heading into the match, but the Kiwis were coming off a commanding 66-14 thrashing of Papua New Guinea at Carlaw Park.

Relentless rain made for a familiarly muddy Showgrounds surface, compounding the cold July conditions, but that was not enough to deter the hardy crowd turnout of 8,525.

Graham made his Test debut at the same ground 11 years earlier, coming off the bench in the Kiwis’ 1977 World Cup loss to Great Britain – but that had been his only appearance for New Zealand in the South Island, having missed Christchurch-hosted Tests against the visiting Lions in 1979 and 1984 through injury.

Gary Freeman, who started on the bench behind Clayton Friend and Shane Cooper, replaced injured lock Mark Horo after just 13 minutes and scored two first-half tries to steer the Dean Bell-led Kiwis to a 12-8 halftime advantage.

The second stanza was a war of attrition as the Lions, captained by the great Ellery Hanley and featuring fellow superstars Andy Gregory, Martin Offiah and Kevin Ward, strived to overhaul the deficit. But a Paul Loughlin penalty goal would be the only scoring play of an incredibly tense half of football, the Kiwis holding on for a courageous 12-10 triumph.

Canterbury forwards Adrian Shelford (right in main picture, with Great Britain forward Hugh Waddell) and Wayne Wallace were among New Zealand’s heroes in front of their home crowd, while Esene Faimalo was an unused reserve. Shelford, then playing for English heavyweights Wigan, was regarded as unlucky to miss out on man-of-the-match honours, which went to front-row opponent Ward.

Sadly, Shelford passed away in England aged just 39 due to a heart attack in 2003.

Great Britain’s tour Down Under ended on a sour note via a 30-14 loss to Auckland the following Tuesday.

Reaching the World Cup final was a watershed achievement for New Zealand, although the Eden Park decider against Australia turned into a nightmare, trounced 25-12 in front of a deflated sell-out crowd in October in what proved an ignominious farewell from the international arena for Graham.

There’s still one more chance to catch Sharko here before the Doc Edge Festival moves on to Auckland and Wellington. It will be screened at Alice Cinema in Christchurch at 8pm on Saturday, June 29. The film will also be available to view on demand from July 15-31.

New Zealand 12 (Gary Freeman 2 tries; Peter Brown 2 goals) defeated Great Britain 10 (David Hulme, Paul Loughlin tries; Loughlin goal) at Addington Showgrounds, Christchurch, July 17, 1988. Referee: Mick Stone. Crowd: 8,525.

NEW ZEALAND: Darrell Williams, Shane Horo, Dean Bell (c), Kevin Iro, Gary Mercer, Shane Cooper, Clayton Friend, Peter Brown, Wayne Wallace, Adrian Shelford, Mark Graham, Sam Stewart, Mark Horo. Reserves: Gary Freeman. Coach: Tony Gordon.

GREAT BRITAIN: Phil Ford, Henderson Gill, David Stephenson, Paul Loughlin, Martin Offiah, David Hulme, Andy Gregory, Kevin Ward, Kevin Beardmore, Hugh Waddell, Mike Gregory, Roy Powell, Ellery Hanley (c). Reserves: Paul Hulme. Coach: Malcolm Reilly.

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