Turning back time - September 29, 2002
Saturday 29 September 2012 12:24 PM
Mark down September 29 as a special 10th anniversary for the Vodafone Warriors.
On that date in 2002 – a sunny Sunday in Sydney’s west – the club secured its most significant victory since coming into existence in 1995.
For everyone who has ever supported the Vodafone Warriors it’s one of those days when they know exactly where they were as well as having a strong recall of exactly what happened.
The 2012 play-offs enter their third phase tonight with the first preliminary final between Melbourne and Manly at AAMI Park. They’re running a week ahead of where the finals were 10 years ago; on this weekend the minor premiership-winning Daniel Anderson-coached Vodafone Warriors were out of action heading into the second week of the finals, having won through directly to the preliminary finals. They were about to find out whether they’d be facing Cronulla or St George Illawarra.
It turned out to be the Sharks who won through after they blitzed the Dragons 40-24 in their semi-final. Throughout the following week the Sydney media was absolutely willing the Sharks to win, desperate to see them not only reach but go on win their first grand final in history (having been empty-handed since entering the competition in 1967). No one on the other side of the ditch was giving the Vodafone Warriors any sort of chance.
So, in the build-up it was 'up, up Cronulla' in every way. The routine sheep jokes were given plenty of airing as everything possible was done to undermine the so-called pretenders.
CLICK HERE FOR HIGHLIGHTS OF VODAFONE WARRIORS v CRONULLA 2002
Owner Eric Watson, it will be recalled, countered by coming up with his famous ticket promotion, buying 15,000 tickets to give away free to New Zealand passport holders. And they queued up in throngs in downtown Sydney to welcome his show of generosity.
The upshot was a crowd of 45,702 turned up at Stadium Australia (now known as ANZ Stadium) – the vast majority of them clearly supporting the Vodafone Warriors – for what would become a match etched in the memory.
In a nutshell it played out like this …
The game was 19 minutes old when Cronulla winger Paul Mellor ran from dummy half but was rounded up on his 30 and driven back by Francis Meli, Motu Tony and third man in Richard Villasanti. While being shunted back towards his 20 at great speed the retreating Mellor opted to try to off load … only the ball ended up directly in Tony’s hands and he gleefully scampered 25 metres to score unchallenged in the corner. Ivan Cleary converted splendidly from the side-line.
The Sharks were pushing for a leveller when Mellor was again the culprit. On the last tackle, he poked in a grubber kick towards the Vodafone Warriors’ goal-line – but there was the magical Stacey Jones sweeping it up two metres from his line. Up-field he exploded and, as Brett Kimmorley came at him in cover near halfway, Jones thumped a superbly-weighted kick ahead towards Cronulla’s line some 50 metres away. Powering through on the chase was Francis Meli who looked like he was certain to win the race but, as he was about to scoop the ball up three metres out, a back-tracking Mellor somehow managed to get a foot to it to kick it dead and save his blushes.
It looked like being a telling moment in the contest, even more so when a Kimmorley kick produced a try for winger Matthew Rieck just three minutes into the second half. Kimmorley couldn’t convert.
In the 54th minute the match swung back the Vodafone Warriors’ way with a magical Clinton Toopi try. On the fourth 45 metres out from Cronulla’s line, the Vodafone Warriors went wide to the left, Jones firing a long pass which Cleary brilliantly flicked on for Toopi to pick up on the bounce on halfway. He surged away from Greg Bird and had only David Peachey in front of him; Peachey showed Toopi the side-line and got to him 10 metres but was left grasping as the Kiwi powered out of his clutches and surged across in the corner. Cleary couldn’t convert this time to leave his side leading 10-4 with 25 minutes still to play.
The lead lasted only a few minutes before Kimmorley carved through on a run-around play and converted to tie it up at 10-10.
The match was inside the last six minutes and still locked up when the Vodafone Warriors went left, Meli taken down on the fourth 10 out from Cronulla’s line in a set which had started 70 metres downfield.
At first receiver, Jones had the ball. This was his time – and Cronulla wasn’t set for what he had in store. Jones went to the line, pushing through an angled grubber in behind the Sharks’ centres with three players – Mark Tookey, Logan Swann and John Carlaw – bearing down. It was Carlaw who raced through to collect ahead of the late-arriving Peachey for one of the most glorious moments in the club’s history.
Cleary’s conversion was no issue, the Vodafone Warriors holding on over the last few minutes to book their spot in the grand final with a 16-10 victory. It was a day for heroes and history, a day all true fans should relive today.
Vodafone Warriors 16 (Motu Tony, Clinton Toopi, John Carlaw tries; Ivan Cleary 2 conversions).
Cronulla Sharks 10 (Matthew Rieck, Brett Kimmorley tries; Brett Kimmorley conversion).
Halftime: 6-0 Vodafone Warriors.
Referee: Tim Mander.
Vodafone Warriors: Ivan Cleary; Justin Murphy, John Carlaw, Clinton Toopi, Francis Meli; Motu Tony, Stacey Jones; Jerry Seuseu, PJ Marsh, Mark Tookey; Ali Lauitiiti, Awen Guttenbeil; Kevin Campion. Interchange: Lance Hohaia, Wairangi Koopu, Logan Swann, Richard Villasanti.
Cronulla Sharks: David Peachey; Matthew Rieck, Chris McKenna, Paul Franze, Paul Mellor; Greg Bird, Brett Kimmorley; Jason Stevens, Dean Treister, Danny Nutley; Paul Gallen, Phil Bailey; Nick Graham. Interchange: Matt Bickerstaff, Dean Bosnich, Karl Lovell, Andrew Pierce.