NRL: Curse of Eden Park hovers over Warriors

By Michael Brown

Rugby headquarters has been a luckless venue for Mt Smart Stadium-based side.

Sonny Bill Williams and the Roosters beat the Warriors 16-14 in their clash at Eden Park nearly a year ago. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Sonny Bill Williams and the Roosters beat the Warriors 16-14 in their clash at Eden Park nearly a year ago. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Canberra is seen as a graveyard for visiting NRL teams but the Warriors have a better winning record at the Australian capital than they do playing home games at anywhere other than Mt Smart Stadium.

Tomorrow the Warriors take on the Dragons at Eden Park, a venue they have never won an NRL game at.

Admittedly it is a small sample of only three games, and one was against the defending champions (Manly in 2012) and another the champions elect (Roosters 2013), but their record away from the safety of Mt Smart and its industrial ambience is woeful.

They have played 15 games at alternative venues in New Zealand for a record of only two wins and one draw. That amounts to a 13.3 per cent winning record, which is considerably worse than their overall record in Australia (36.1 per cent) and their winning record in Canberra (15.4 per cent). Only Wollongong - one win in 11 games (9 per cent) - represents a worse return.

It has led many to believe a hoodoo, or curse, exists for New Zealand league teams because the Kiwis have never won at Eden Park, either.

"We have played there once while I have been there," Warriors coach Matt Elliott said. "I guess we lived up to the curse. I fully expect that to finish this weekend. I'm not being cocky about that. I have a lot of belief in this group of guys and, if we play our best footy, it doesn't matter where we play or what hoodoos exist.

"I like Eden Park. I think it's a good venue, has great facilities and is a place I am looking forward to going to.

"It feels different because it's not [Mt Smart] but I also feel it's something we need to own. It's something that can't be foreign to us. We need to make sure it feels like our home because it is our home, just like when we go to Wellington. That's our home, too."

It might have something to do with the fact that any time games are played there, there's considerable hype attached to the game and the Warriors haven't historically coped well with hype and expectations.

They will hope the Auckland Nines helps turn things around. They spent two days at Eden Park, winning four games and losing one, and should be more familiar with the nuances and feel of the ground.

The Warriors will play three games at Eden Park this season as they look to the home of rugby as a more regular venue and are even contemplating it as a permanent base.

It's a touchy subject for many long-term fans, who prefer the intimacy of Mt Smart, but the club are convinced their future lies elsewhere.

Their current contract with Mt Smart Stadium ends in 2018 but the club are hoping to make the move to Eden Park earlier as Auckland's stadiums are realigned under the Super City. The plan would see them retain Mt Smart as their training and administration base but play home games at Eden Park.

They have attracted more than 30,000 for each of the three games played at Eden Park, including 32,740 for last year's 16-14 defeat to the Roosters, which is significantly more than the average of about 13,000 who attended Mt Smart last year.

That could plateau over a season but is still a significant jump, although some of it is offset by the high cost of staging games at Eden Park.

Eden Park has had a reverse effect on visiting international rugby sides. The Wallabies haven't won there since 1986 and the All Blacks haven't been beaten at the venue since 1994, when France won 23-20. They have now accumulated an incredible 32-match unbeaten streak at Eden Park.

Maybe the New Zealand rugby gods don't like the idea of league being played on their spiritual home.

The Warriors' Eden Park "curse" started in 2011 with a 24-18 defeat to the Eels, when they botched a number of high balls and lost winger Manu Vatuvei to a knee injury in Stephen Kearney's first game in charge as Parramatta coach.

Over the past two years, they have trailed 16-0 in both games played there and fought back only to lose to the Sea Eagles (26-20) and the Roosters (16-14).

"It's a great venue to play at," said Warriors centre Jerome Ropati.

"There's a good atmosphere.

"It definitely feels different to Mt Smart. It feels a lot bigger. We have enjoyed playing there. I don't believe there is a curse there. We just haven't played well enough to win.

"Mt Smart will always be seen, for me personally because I have been here for years, as home, but Eden Park is just as good." Their record there would suggest otherwise.

Other travelling hoodoos

Garden of Eden

Australia aren't the only rugby team to struggle at Eden Park in recent times, given the All Blacks are unbeaten in 32 matches at the venue dating back to 1994, but have lost their past 14 there. The last time the Wallabies won was in 1986 when Alan Jones was courting controversy as a coach as opposed to on the airwaves. Also, South African sides have failed to win a Super Rugby game in Christchurch since 1996.

Manchester Dis-United

David Moyes has set a number of records this season as Manchester United manager but most he won't look back fondly on - including losing to West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford for the first time in 35 years, Newcastle in 41 years, Spurs in 25 years and Everton in 22 years. At least they're still unbeaten there against Gainsborough Trinity.

Transtasman troubles

The Pulse, Steel and Tactix have never won in Australia since the ANZ Championship was established in 2008. Never. No matter how many times you read that it stills jars. The Mystics shouldn't get too smug - they've won only twice. Australian sides don't have similar travails over here.

- APNZ

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