IT was this month 25 years ago that Warrington played its part in the Centenary Rugby League World Cup.

Wilderspool Stadium hosted New Zealand v Tonga in Group B, a match now firmly rooted in folklore as one of the sport's greatest international occasions in the town.

The Kiwis, pushed to the wire by newcomers on the Test scene, went on to reach the semi-finals but were knocked out by Australia.

England defeated Wales at Old Trafford in their semi-final, an occasion best remembered for the 10,000 supporters who travelled up from the Valleys to cheer on a whole host of their heroes who had switched from rugby union to the 13-man code and then made it to the last four in the World Cup.

Warrington's Iestyn Harris, Allan Bateman, Jonathan Davies, Kevin Ellis, Rowland Phillips all featured in that Wales side led by Wire assistant coach Clive Griffiths.

The Kangaroos, coached by Warrington-born Bobby Fulton, proved too strong in the final at Wembley on October 28, 1995, defeating England 16-8 with future Wire loan signing Andrew Johns playing hooker.

Here we look back on the game played in Warrington:

New Zealand 25 Tonga 24, Sunday, October 8, 1995:

WARRINGTON fans took the Tongans to their hearts in this World Cup spectacular at Wilderspool.

The Tongans were 300-1 outsiders in group two and were expected to fail miserably against a New Zealand team fancied to reach the final.

But the underdogs came good and the neutral supporters - more than 8,000 of them - loved every minute of the pulsating battle.

From the moment Tonga retaliated to the New Zealand Haka with their own war dance, the Tongans had won over the Warrington crowd. Chants of Tonga, Tonga, Tonga' echoed around the stadium.

Tonga, skippered by former Warrington favourite Duane Mann, nearly pulled off the international upset of all time after rattling the Kiwis with some awesome powerhouse defence.

The rivalry between the two nations was ferocious. It was beaten only by the intensity as two teams of raw muscle went at each other hell for leather for a thrilling 80 minutes. Wilderspool had not seen tackling like it!

The Pacific Cup champions held a 24-12 lead with only 10 minutes to go, with one of their tries scored by substitute Salesi Finau, who was later to join Warrington Wolves.

But then the Kiwis got a grip to level the match at 24-24 with injury time left to play.

And up stepped Matthew Ridge, the New Zealand full back, to impose the cruellest of blows on to Tonga with a drop goal 2 minutes into injury time. It was sheer drama to the final whistle.

Duane Mann, who was voted man of the match, recalled: "The support we had from the terraces was fantastic.

"In the second half the roar from the Fletcher Street end spurred us on and it was an important part of our fight back from 12-6 down.

"At the end we did the war dance again as a mark of respect for the fans".


New Zealand: Tries: Richie Blackmore 2, Sean Hoppe, Tony Kemp, Hitro Okesene. Goals: Matthew Ridge 2, Drop goal: Ridge.

Tonga: Tries: Willie Wolfgramm, Una Taufa, Jimmy Veikoso, Salesi Finau. Goals: Asa Amone.


New Zealand: Matthew Ridge; Sean Hoppe, Richie Blackmore, Ruben Wiki, Richard Barnett; Gene Ngamu, Stacey Jones; Quentin Pongia, Syd Eru, Jason Lowries, Tony Iro, Stephen Kearney, Tony Kemp. Subs: Henry Paul, Hitro Okesene, Kevin Iro, Mark Horo.

Tonga: Asa Amone; Una Taufa, Tevita Vaikona, Phil Howlett, Jimmy Veikoso; Angelo Dymock, Willie Wolfgramm; Martin Masella, Duane Mann, Lee Hansen, George Mann, Solomon Haumono, Awen Guttenbail. Subs: Salesi Finau, Talite Liava'a, Luke Leilua, Taukolo Tonga.