Wellington’s Westpac Stadium is to become the Warriors’ first genuine home away from home after being confirmed today as the venue for the club’s blockbuster ninth-round NRL clash against Canterbury-Bankstown on Saturday, May 11 next year.
While the Warriors took designated home games to Eden Park in 2011 and 2012 – and will do so again next year – this match will be the first time in 221 games across 19 seasons that the club will play a home game outside Auckland.
When the draw was announced last month, Warriors chief executive Wayne Scurrah revealed the club would play one of its 12 regular season home games elsewhere in New Zealand or possibly in Australia.
“It’s hugely exciting for us and fitting as well that this landmark event in our history will take place in the nation’s capital and at one of the best venues in New Zealand,” he said.
“We know there’s big interest in the Warriors and rugby league not only in and around Wellington but in the surrounding regions like Taranaki, Manawatu, Horowhenua, Wanganui, Wairarapa and Hawke’s Bay as well as Nelson and Marlborough across the Cook Strait.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity for another part of the country to see the Warriors take on last year’s beaten grand finalists as well as the early game between the two NYC teams.
“It’s going to be a massive night and we’re looking for a huge crowd to create a fantastic home ground atmosphere for us.
“We really appreciate the support and interest we’ve already had from the city of Wellington and have some unique and exciting ideas for the event as a whole. We’ll be making a series of announcements about these in the coming weeks.”
Confirmation of the match is set to mark a special homecoming for Wellington-born and bred Warriors prop Ben Matulino while captain Simon Mannering was living in Wellington when he was signed by the Warriors. Hooker Alehana Mara is another Wellington product in the club’s NRL squad.
Wellington Regional Stadium Trust chief executive David Gray was confident having the Warriors in the capital would generate unprecedented levels of anticipation for rugby league.
“There has always been a real appetite here for the Warriors and the NRL as a whole,” he said.
“This takes it to a new level because, for the first time, we’re in partnership with the club to market this as a home game whereas in the past they’ve been the visiting side.
“This is another great opportunity to market both our stadium and the city at a time when Wellington is absolutely on the world map as the ‘middle of Middle-earth’ following the release of The Hobbit. There’s much to offer here.”
The decision to play a home match outside Auckland for the first time is in line with the NRL’s desire to have games taken away from traditional home grounds.
“We already had games scheduled in Cairns, Mudgee, Mackay, Perth and Darwin and now we can add Wellington,” said NRL director commercial and marketing Paul Kind.
“We’ve been working with the Warriors on this initiative and see it as another great step forward for the game. It’s important to promote the NRL in as many areas as we can and we know Wellington will get right in behind an event that will hopefully be the first of more to follow.”
New Warriors head coach Matt Elliott said he certainly looked forward to returning to Wellington for what will be his second experience at Westpac Stadium as the nominated home coach.
“I was there with Canberra in 2003 when we took our game to Wellington to take on the Warriors,” he said.
“I have great memories of the visit, too. We spent quite a few days there and I’ve never forgotten how well the people in Wellington looked after us. They were awesome then so it’s going to be terrific going back this time with us being the home team there for the first time.”
In his first visit to Wellington, Elliott’s Raiders beat the Warriors 18-10. Ruben Wiki, now reunited with Elliott as the club’s strength and conditioning coach, scored the critical try that night. Wiki had Kiwi company in the side in the shape of Jamahl Lolesi and ex- Warrior Tyran Smith but the New Zealand component is much stronger in the 2013 Canterbury-Bankstown squad.
The Bulldogs boast current Kiwis Sam Perrett, Krisnan Inu, Sam Kasiano, Frank Pritchard and Greg Eastwood plus ex-Kiwi Dene Halatau and former Junior Kiwis Martin Taupau and Drury Low.
Of the Warriors’ current squad, Matulino (23) was educated at St Bernard’s College in Lower Hutt and played his junior football for the Te Aroha Eels, the Randwick Kingfishers and the Wellington Orcas before moving to Auckland. As well as playing his 100th NRL match for the Warriors this year, Matulino has already appeared in 13 Tests for the Kiwis. Mara (23) was educated at St Patrick’s College and played his junior football for the St George Dragons and the Orcas before signing with the Warriors. Nelson-raised Mannering (26) also played for the Orcas during his time in Wellington.
Saturday, May 11, 2013
NRL: Warriors v Canterbury-Bankstown (7:30pm)
NYC: Junior Warriors v Canterbury-Bankstown (5.15pm)