Nothing better than bettering Auckland

11:09, Jun 04 2009

The captains and coach of some of Canterbury rugby league's finest teams agree there is nothing better than beating Auckland.

The Auckland Rugby League has honoured a rivalry stretching back to 1912 by inviting the Canterbury Bulls to play at their centennial in Auckland today.

This appointment has brought back happy memories for key personnel from three of Canterbury's greatest victories over the blue-clad aristocrats from Auckland.

Mel Cooke is a Legend of League, a workaholic loose forward, and the only Cantabrian named in the Greatest Team of the Twentieth Century.

In 1962, Cooke was captain of the first Canterbury team to win the Rugby League Cup (then known as the Northern Union Cup) off Auckland at the Addington Showgrounds.

He remembers it like it was yesterday. "They came down with pretty much a full Kiwis team. Only their loose forward never represented the Kiwis. We had just three Kiwis at the time our wing Allen Amer, [stand-off half] Jim Bond and me."


The Aucklanders boasted some of the game's greats, including the prince of centres Roger Bailey, try-scoring wing Ken McCracken and backrowers Ron Ackland and Don Hammond.

"But we'd managed to keep a team together for two or three seasons and it was brilliant to beat them," Cooke said.

Auckland led 13-6 with 10 minutes remaining, but Canterbury fullback Tony Smith kicked a penalty to cut the deficit to five points.

Cooke helped create Canterbury's first try, combining with frontrowers Geoff Cooper and Gary Blackler to send wing Pat White scampering to score in the corner. Smith tied the score at 13-13 with his conversion.

Scrum-half Bob Irvine burrowed over later to give Canterbury a 16-13 victory after Bond foxed the Auckland defence with a dummy and linked with centre John Walshe.

Cooke said Canterbury went to Auckland to defend the cup in 1963 and drew with Auckland 10-10. "So we got to bring the cup home."

Canterbury team: Tony Smith, Pat White, John Walshe, Peter Smith, Allen Amer, Jim Bond, Bob Irvine; George Turner, Gary Blackler, Geoff Cooper, Mita Mohi, Eddie Tavendale, Mel Cooke. Coach: Keith Roberts.

In 1975, Auckland had 14 players on Kiwis duty at the World Cup; Canterbury had just two (prop John Greengrass and centre Bruce Dickison).

But new Canterbury coach Gary Clarke came in with a new broom and put his faith in a new young breed, including 19-year-old future Kiwis forward Mark Broadhurst.

Canterbury went into the game at the showgrounds unbeaten in the inter-districts competition after wins over Waikato, Wellington and West Coast.

Auckland scored two early tries, but Canterbury clawed their way back for a 15-14 win after tries to young skipper Wally Wilson and centres Lewis Hudson and Mocky Brereton.

The red-and-black resolve was exemplified by prop Stu Hogg, who had run himself to a standstill but who forcefully told coach Clarke, "there's no way I'm coming off".

All the squad got medals for winning the national championship, except Clarke, "because they didn't have enough". But Hudson "came in and gave his to me for my collection earlier this year".

Clarke said there was "nothing better than beating Auckland, especially up there at Carlaw Park".

Canterbury team: Jack Clarke, Gary Taie, Mocky Brereton, Leon Paskell, Lewis Hudson, Graeme Cooksley, Wally Wilson (capt), Stu Hogg, Dale Brown, Mark Fuller, Mark Broadhurst, Rex Dalzell, Mutu Stone. Reserves: Francis (Tiny) Lawrence, Alan Rushton. Coach: Gary Clarke.

In 1993, close to 10,000 people packed the showgrounds to see Frank Endacott's Canterbury record a celebrated 36-12 drubbing.

Canterbury captain Mark Nixon recalled Auckland bringing back their British-based professionals, including Kiwis Tawera Nikau, Tea Ropati and Duane Mann and ex-All Black Craig Innes. Canterbury's only returnee was the man Australia dubbed "the baby-faced assassin", Kiwi Brendon Tuuta.

But future Kiwi Logan Edwards "was on fire" for Canterbury.

"Logan worked a couple of blindside moves and suddenly we were 12-0 up and I hadn't even touched the ball," stand-off Nixon said.

"After the first one, he said to me `they don't know what to do; let's do it again'."

"I don't think [Auckland centres] Innes and Iva Ropati enjoyed coming to Canterbury. Auckland used to call the showgrounds the killing fields back then."

The secret to the team's success was "our camaraderie", Nixon said. "Frank was big on that."

Canterbury team: Marty Crequer, Mike Dorreen, Blair Harding, Brett Rodger, Whetu Taewa, Mark Nixon (captain), Aaron Whittaker, Brent Stuart, Mike Culley, Ron Simanu, Simon Angell, Logan Edwards, Brendon Tuuta. Reserves: Justin Wallace, Shane Ngataki, Paul Johnson, Andrew Vincent. Coach: Frank Endacott.

The Press