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FLASHBACK FRIDAY: KIWIS CONQUER WORLD CUP FINAL PLACE IN SHOWGROUNDS MUD

After last night’s world premiere of Sharkthe documentary about Mark Graham that his son Luke made last night during the Doc Edge Festival in Christchurch, Flashback Friday relives the last match of the New Zealand Rugby League Player of the Century in the city.

It is one of the most dramatic and important Test matches ever at Ōtautahi, the one-off clash between New Zealand and Great Britain at the Addington Showgrounds in 1988. The stakes were higher than in an average encounter between the Kiwis and Lions.

The clash effectively became a play-off to see which country would face Australia in the World Cup final later that year, with competition points accrued from the final Test of each series between 1985 and ’88, which decided the finalists in a new four-year, home-and-away World Cup format.

The Lions’ memorable 26-12 defeat to Australia in the third Test in Sydney saw Great Britain move ahead of New Zealand in the World Cup table, setting up a thrilling encounter in Christchurch.

Great Britain’s boiling over win over the SFS had given the tourists confidence and preference ahead of the match, but the New Zealanders were fresh from a convincing 66-14 win over Papua New Guinea at Carlaw Park.

The persistent rainfall left a muddy surface at the Showgrounds, which is known for its cold conditions in July. Yet that could not deter the 8,525 enthusiastic visitors.

Graham had made his Test debut on the same ground 11 years earlier, when he came on as a substitute in the Kiwis’ 1977 World Cup defeat to Great Britain. However, that was to be his only appearance for New Zealand on the South Island, having missed the 1979 and 1984 Tests against the visiting Lions in Christchurch through injury.

Gary Freeman, who started on the bench behind Clayton Friend and Shane Cooper, replaced injured lock Mark Horo after just 13 minutes and scored twice in the first half to give the Dean Bell-led Kiwis a 12-8 halftime lead.

The second stanza was a war of attrition as the Lions, led by the great Ellery Hanley and featuring fellow superstars Andy Gregory, Martin Offiah and Kevin Ward, attempted to overturn the deficit. But a penalty from Paul Loughlin would be the only scorer in an incredibly tense half of football, the Kiwis holding on for a gutsy 12-10 victory.

Canterbury striker Adrian Shelford (right in main photo, with British striker Hugh Waddell) and Wayne Wallace were among New Zealand’s heroes in front of their home crowd, while Esene Faimalo was an unused reserve. Shelford, then playing for English heavyweights Wigan, was deemed unlucky to miss out on the man-of-the-match award, which went to front-row opponent Ward.

Sadly, Shelford passed away in England at the age of 39 due to a heart attack in 2003.

Great Britain’s tour of Australia ended disappointingly, with the team defeated 30-14 by Auckland the following Tuesday.

Reaching the World Cup final was a milestone for New Zealand, although the deciding match against Australia at Eden Park in October turned into a nightmare, winning 25-12 in front of a disappointed sell-out crowd. It was an ignominious farewell for Graham on the international stage.

There is one more chance to catch Sharko here before the Doc Edge Festival moves on to Auckland and Wellington. The film will be shown at Alice Cinema in Christchurch on Saturday, June 29 at 8pm. The film will also be available to watch on demand from July 15 to 31.

New Zealand 12 (Gary Freeman 2 tries; Peter Brown 2 goals) defeated Great Britain 10 (David Hulme, Paul Loughlin try; Loughlin goal) at Addington Showgrounds, Christchurch, July 17, 1988. Referee: Mick Stone. Crowd: 8,525.

NEW ZEALAND: Darrell Williams, Shane Horo, Dean Bell (c), Kevin Iro, Gary Mercer, Shane Cooper, Clayton Friend, Peter Brown, Wayne Wallace, Adrian Shelford, Mark Graham, Sam Stewart, Mark Horo. Reserves: Gary Freeman. Coach: Tony Gordon.

GREAT BRITAIN: Phil Ford, Henderson Gill, David Stephenson, Paul Loughlin, Martin Offiah, David Hulme, Andy Gregory, Kevin Ward, Kevin Beardmore, Hugh Waddell, Mike Gregory, Roy Powell, Ellery Hanley (c). Reserves: Paul Hulme. Coach: Malcolm Reilly.