Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

League: Mannering and Mt Smart celebrate significant milestones

Warriors celebrate David Fusitu'a's try during the round 13 NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the Brisbane Broncos at Mt Smart Stadium. Photo / Getty Images
Warriors celebrate David Fusitu'a's try during the round 13 NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the Brisbane Broncos at Mt Smart Stadium. Photo / Getty Images

Mt Smart Stadium celebrates a couple of significant milestones tomorrow.

On the same day Simon Mannering brings up his 250th NRL game, the much-maligned Penrose venue will also host its 250th NRL match.

It's become the closest thing to a cauldron for the inconsistent Auckland franchise over the years. The club have won almost 60 per cent of their matches there (145 victories from 249 games), a figure not helped by several dire seasons. But even in the worst of times, like from 1999-2000, 2005 or 2009, the club have usually been competitive at Mt Smart.

However, it took a long time for the venue to become accepted as the home of league in New Zealand. It wasn't a universally popular choice from the beginning, with elements of the league community preferring Carlaw Park.

Mt Smart, which was redeveloped for the 1990 Commonwealth Games, hosted its first big league match in 1989 - the third test between the Kiwis and Kangaroos - with further one-off tests played there in 1990, 1992 and 1993. Its greater capacity (almost double of Carlaw Park) saw the then-Auckland Warriors plump for Mt Smart as their base, and the Auckland Council also gave assurances around upgrades and upkeep.

In 2002, there was another push to move the Warriors to Carlaw Park - a project backed by Auckland Rugby League - but the club decided to remain in South Auckland.

And in recent years Regional Facilities Auckland has advocated the Warriors relocating to Eden Park or Albany Stadium, before a new lease extension to 2028 was signed this year.

Mt Smart compares well with NRL venues. It's superior to suburban grounds like Brookvale Oval, Shark Park, Kogarah and Leichhardt Oval and engenders a better atmosphere than vast arenas like ANZ Stadium or Allianz Stadium when they are half-empty. It's also become a place synonymous with drama, with the loyal band of supporters creating arguably the best week-to-week atmosphere at a New Zealand ground. But the stadium has never quite witnessed the level of success anticipated back in 1995.

Across 21 seasons, the club have hosted only three playoff matches.

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The first was in 2002, when the minor premiers, inspired by Stacey Jones and Ali Lauitiiti, dispatched the Raiders 36-20. The next time was a disappointing semifinal in 2007, when a capacity crowd saw the Warriors stumble to a 12-10 defeat to the Eels. And the last home final was almost a decade ago, in 2008, when the Roosters were beaten 30-13.

There have been record wins, like the 42-0 defeat of Newcastle in Jones' 100th match in 1999 over a Knights side that included Andrew and Matthew Johns, or the 48-0 hammering of Parramatta two years ago. There have also been nasty lows, like the 30-0 loss to the Storm in 2009 and the 24-0 reverse to the Cowboys in 1999.

The Warriors won six consecutive home matches in the second half of the 2008 season, but it's the losing runs that stick in the memory. But tomorrow will hopefully be another celebration, like Jones' memorable 100th and Simon Mannering and Manu Vatuvei's respective double centuries (both comprehensive victories in 2014 and 2015).

- NZ Herald

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