Warriors Turn back the clock

Foundation captain Dean Bell is excited about the Vodafone Warriors? plans to recreate the club?s historic 1995 debut for their clash with original rivals Brisbane at Ericsson Stadium on Sunday. In marking the club?s introduction to the Winfield Cup on March 10, 1995, the Vodafone Warriors have produced a special replica strip for the 2005 NRL team to wear for the 10th anniversary event.

General manager Spiro Tsiros has revealed the team?s entrance for the game will also be 1995 all over again when they emerge from the tunnel at the north-eastern corner of the stadium. ?We?ll also have the flames, there?ll be a Maori welcoming party and the Polynesian drummers will be back, too,? he said. ?On top of that we?ll have some of the original 1995 players with us as special guests as we mark a hugely significant day in the club?s history.?

All of which thrills Bell who, as captain, led the original Warriors into a real cauldron the night they kicked off the 1995 Winfield Cup season as one of four new expansion clubs. ?I?m really excited about what they have in store ? I just wish I could be there myself,? he said from his home Preston, England. ?It?s going to be such a great occasion and it sounds like they?re doing a really good job.? Bell came home on a one-year deal from a hugely successful career with Wigan to lead the Warriors into the Australian competition. ?I remember that first night vividly. It was such a huge night for New Zealand rugby league generally and also for me personally,? he said. ?I?m sure the Broncos were wondering what was in store for them that night with everything that was going on before the game. ?I?d played for Wigan in front of crowds of 100,000 for Challenge Cup finals at Wembley but I was still anxious being home in my country of birth for New Zealand rugby league?s biggest event that night. ?There had been a lot of prejudice towards rugby league and I saw that night as a chance for New Zealand league to gain some respect. I couldn?t have scripted a better way for my career to finish than the year I had with the Warriors in 1995.? While it wasn?t possible to bring Bell back from England for the match, a number of the original Warriors will be introduced as special guests in the build-up before Sunday week?s encounter kicks off at 2.00pm. Auckland-based standoff Gene Ngamu, hooker Duane Mann, second rower Tony Tatupu, loose forward Tony Tuimavave and replacement centre Tea Ropati will all be on hand. ?As well as that, Phil Blake, the man who scored the club?s first try, will be with us,? said Tsiros. It?s also hoped interviews with Bell, halfback Greg Alexander and original coach John Monie will be played on the big screens at the stadium along with a message from Allan Langer, Brisbane?s captain who led his side to a 25-22 win that night. Tsiros said a number of promotions would be run around the event both before the match and at the venue itself. ?We?ll be drawing a winner of the jersey worn by the Vodafone Warrior and signed by him who is named the players? player of the match against Brisbane,? he said. ?But that will be a one-off and only people who are actually at the ground will be eligible.? The 17 original Warriors are now spread throughout New Zealand, Australia and England. Apart from Bell, winger Sean Hoppe, second rower Stephen Kearney (still playing with Hull FC), popular prop Hitro Okesene and replacement Martin Moana are also in the United Kingdom. Interchange forwards Se?e Solomona and Jason Mackie are in Australia along with Blake and Fox Sports league commentator Alexander. Prop Gavin Hill is based in Wellington and winger Whetu Taewa is in Cromwell while the only players whose whereabouts is a mystery is centre Manoa Thompson. The Vodafone Warriors have so far used 124 players in their 253 first-grade matches. Halfback Stacey Jones, who?s set to lead the side into the anniversary match, holds most of the club?s records ? most appearances (227), most points (582), most tries (72) and most field goals (12).

Warriors v Brisbane Broncos Friday, March 10, 1995 Ericsson Stadium Warriors 22 (Phil Blake, Sean Hoppe, Tony Tatupu, Tea Ropati tries; Gene Ngamu 3 goals). Brisbane 25 (Allan Langer 2, Willie Carne, Chris Johns tries; Julian O?Neill 3 goals; Allan Langer goal, field goal). Half-time: 16-10 Warriors. Crowd: 31,500. Referee: Bill Harrigan. Teams: Warriors: Phil Blake, Sean Hoppe, Dean Bell (c), Manoa Thompson, Whetu Taewa, Gene Ngamu, Greg Alexander, Gavin Hill, Duane Mann, Hitro Okesene, Stephen Kearney, Tony Tatupu, Tony Tuimavave. Interchange: Se?e Solomona, Tea Ropati, Jason Mackie, Martin Moana. Brisbane: Julian O?Neill, Wendell Sailor, Michael Hancock, Chris Johns, Willie Carne, Kevin Walters, Allan Langer (c), Glen Lazarus, Kerrod Walters, Andrew Gee, Brad Thorn, Alan Cann, Darren Smith. Interchange: John Plath, Peter Ryan.