The Auckland Warriors played their first match in the New South Wales Rugby League’s expanded Winfield Cup competition.
Thirty thousand fans at Mt Smart stadium – and hundreds of thousands watching television – saw New Zealand’s first fully professional rugby league team run out alongside the Brisbane Broncos. A mock battle and an excited ground announcer heralded them. The Warriors led 22–10 before the Broncos rallied to win 25–22.
Coached by John Monie and captained by Dean Bell, the Warriors had their first win in their third match, only to be stripped of two points for inadvertently fielding too many replacement players. As a result, they missed the end-of-season playoffs.
After a year in the breakaway Super League Telstra Cup competition in 1997, the rebranded New Zealand Warriors made the National Rugby League playoffs for the first time in 2001.
The Warriors’ best year so far has been 2002, when they were minor premiers (topped the regular season table) and reached the grand final. They have made the playoffs five more times, reaching the grand final again in 2011.