Footy Flashbacks: New Zealand Warriors 22-32 St George Illawarra (2002)

Ahead of the NRL resuming on May 28, Love Rugby League decided to look at some past matches between the third round match ups.

Our fourth match is New Zealand Warriors v St George Illawarra Dragons in round 15 of the 2002 NRL season.


New Zealand Warriors

The Warriors came into this mid-season clash in terrific form with six consecutive victories not conceding more than 20 points. 

This run, with early season losses to Newcastle and Canterbury the only blots on their copybook, saw Daniel Anderson’s side sit in second place.

St George Illawarra

In contrast, the Dragons came into this meeting after a 30-30 draw against Melbourne, remarkably their third of the campaign, and in 10th place following their inconsistent first half of the season. 

They started with a loss to the Sharks and after beating Penrith in round two, did not taste victory again until round 10 against Wests. 

New Zealand 22-32 St George 

The Warriors struck first as John Carlaw got on the end of an excellent Stacey Jones kick but St George struck back with a vengeance.

Ben Hornby and Lee Hookey added converted tries as the visitors took a 12-4 lead and it had been extended further with two penalties. 

There was no let-up in the second period for the shell-shocked Warriors as St George Illawarra’s try scorers were reversed and they seemed on course for a morale boosting win at 26-4. 

Anderson’s side had a mountain to climb but they looked to have started a fightback when an Ali Lauitiiti break ended with Henry Fa’afili crossing. 

However the points were sealed when Lance Thompson barged over from close range to make it 32-16 with less than 15 minutes remaining. 

Undeterred, Jones urged one last push from the home side and Brent Webb, Clinton Toopi and Lauitiiti grabbed four-pointers in the dying embers but their winning run was over.  

New Zealand Warriors: Cleary; Fa’afili, Carlaw, Toopi, Murphy; Hohaia, Jones; Villasanti, Tony, Tookey, Lauitiiti, Guttenbeil, Campion. Subs: Webb, Morgan, Faumuina, Paleaaesina.

St George Illawarra: Roberts; Laloata, Hookey, Kent, Cooper; Hornby, Gorrell; Felsch, Riddell, Leikvoll, Smith, Thompson, Hooper. Subs: Ross, Millard, Kite, Stapleton.

What happened next?

New Zealand Warriors

Captained by half-back Jones, New Zealand continued to alternate between winning and losing until a round 22 victory over the Bulldogs finally saw them win consecutive games. 

A third straight win over Brisbane restored their early season confidence but two contrasting defeats – 44-0 at Sydney and 18-16 against Northern Eagles saw them fall a place to third. 

However they still had a chance of finishing first as the Bulldogs, who had won 17 successive matches,  were deducted 37 competition points in round 23 for breaching the salary cap.

A comfortable win over Wests Tigers saw the Warriors claim the club’s first ever minor premiership, ahead of Newcastle on points difference. 

A 36-20 qualifying final victory over Canberra, who made the finals due to the Bulldogs’ punishment, saw Jones and co play the Sharks for a place in the Grand Final. 

Clinton Toopi’s try proved the difference as the Warriors won 16-10 to reach their maiden Grand Final.

After trailing 6-2 at half-time, Jones’ try was converted by Ivan Cleary as the Warriors led for the first time.

However, the Roosters had too much quality, hitting back 11 minutes later through Craig Wing and easing to a 30-6 victory. 


After thrashing the Cowboys in their next match, St George Illawarra were similarly inconsistent and unable to string more than two wins together. 

Despite this, Andrew Farr’s team eased past Newcastle 40-22 in the final round to finish seventh.

Their reward was a rematch with the Knights, with a Lance Thompson try securing a 26-22 win. 

The semi-final pitted them against the Sharks and they were soundly beaten 40-24.  

By Sam Harris

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