As Linwood Keas and Riccarton Knights prepare for their second CRL Whitehead Plumbing & Gas Men’s Premiership showdown of 2024, Flashback Friday relives the clubs’ 2002 grand final showdown – where one of Canterbury’s favourite sons set pointscoring records that may never be matched.

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.

“I’m still speechless, to be fair,” Whittaker told Canterbury Rugby League recently.

“I’d been in a few grand finals before and kicked a few goals but never scored any tries – it just seemed the stars aligned that particular day. But I’m only one player in the 17 and the boys up front did their job, which made it easier for our backs to shine.

“But I’m very honoured – you never really hear of it, five tries – and I’ll certainly take it. It was just great to be in a grand final with a great bunch of blokes.

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.

“There’s a lot players out there that play a lot of footy and never play in a grand final, so to win a few is amazing,” Whittaker continued.

“The boys were up for the task that day, it was their first chance in a grand final and great coaching from ‘Jigsy’ [Ringdahl], and from one to 18 – we had a few guys who played all year that had to miss out, who I felt sorry for.”

The Andy Wihare-coached Keas also featured many familiar names. Veteran Andrew Vincent partnered captain Maurice Emslie in the halves. Decorated future 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.



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.


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