Remembering the Crusaders class of 1998

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After finishing dead-last in the inaugural season of Super Rugby in 1996, the Crusaders underwent a remarkable turnaround to finish sixth in 1997 before being crowned champions for the first time in 1998.

 

In a blockbuster final at Eden Park, the Crusaders scored late through James Kerr to defeat the two-time champions the Blues by a margin of 20-13. Since winning their first crown in 1998, the Crusaders have become the most successful team in Super Rugby history with 10 title wins.

 

We remember the Crusaders starting line-up from that historic grand final in 1998.

 

15: Daryl Gibson

A rugged and versatile player, Gibson is best remembered for his work in the midfield where he racked up 19 Test caps for the All Blacks. In the Super Rugby 1998 final, Gibson took the 15 jersey with Leon MacDonald plying his trade for the Chiefs that season. Gibson debuted for the Crusaders in the inaugural season of Super Rugby in 1996 and appeared 77 times for the side before bowing out with a fourth title in 2002 following successes in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Gibson continued his association with the Crusaders as an Assistant Coach from 2008-2012 before taking the helm of the Waratahs from 2013-2019.

 

14: James Kerr

After beginning his career with the Blues in 1996, reliable wing James Kerr broke their hearts in 1998 when he scored the match-winning try in the final for the Crusaders. Kerr finished his time with the Crusaders in 2000 before shifting north and enjoying a memorable stint with Taranaki in the National Provincial Championship alongside former Crusaders teammate Darryl Lilley. Kerr told the New Zealand Herald just what that final victory meant to him some years later:  "I've had some great things happen in my career. NPC titles and so on. That Super 12 title was the highlight."

 

13: Tabai Matson

A hard running centre, Tabai Matson was a staple in the midfield for both the Crusaders and Canterbury during the mid-1990s. At 6’4 and 105 kgs, Matson was an imposing figure in the 13 jersey and earned five caps for the All Blacks between 1995-1996. Following an almost decade long period playing in Europe and Japan, Matson moved into coaching where he has since enjoyed successful tenures with Canterbury in the NPC, the Crusaders and Chiefs in Super Rugby and the Maori All Blacks and Fiji internationally.

 

12: Mark Mayerhofler

While the All Blacks in the mid-1990s were renowned for their sublime midfield combination of Frank Bunce and Walter Little, the Crusaders and Canterbury weren’t far behind with their duo of Tabai Matson and Mark Mayerhofler. While Matson brought the power game, Mayherhofler was the perfect contrast with his slick distribution and watertight defence. Mayerhofler appeared 53 times for the Crusaders between 1996-2000 and ended his Super Rugby career with the Blues in 2002 before enjoying five years with Newcastle in the English Premiership.

 

11: Norman Berryman

A cult-hero for the Crusaders, ‘Storming’ Norman Berryman was a mercurial player who had the uncanny ability of creating attacking opportunities out of defensive situations. After playing for the Chiefs in 1996 and Blues in 1997, Berryman found a home at the Crusaders where he won three championships in 1998, 1999 and 2000. He is fondly remembered as a Crusaders fan favourite for his distinctive long hair and x-factor ability. Unfortunately, Berryman died at the age of 42 in 2015 while living in Perth, Australia.

 


10: Andrew Mehrtens

When you think of the early years of the Crusaders dynasty, Andrew Mehrtens is one of the first names that springs to mind. A superb backline general, masterful tactician and genuine game-breaker, Mehrtens was one of the key cogs in the Crusaders five title wins in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002 and 2005.  The Durban-born pivot went on to become the competition’s all-time leading points scorer in 2005 with 990 points, a record that stood for four years.

 

9: Aaron Flynn

In Justin Marshall, Elton Moncreiff and Aaron Flynn, the Crusaders had three halfbacks on their books in 1998, but it was Flynn who took the nine jersey in the final. A razor-sharp distributor and bustling ball runner, Flynn formed a formidable partnership with first five-eighth Andrew Mehrtens. A stalwart for Canterbury in the NPC, the 1998 season was a career highlight for the Flynn who went onto become the general manager of the Linwood Rugby Club in Christchurch.

 

8: Steve Surridge

Ironically, Surridge was born and raised in Auckland and made his first-class debut for the city slickers against Canterbury in 1991. A move south kick-started the powerful No.8's career as he became a stalwart in the Crusaders and Canterbury packs during the late 1990s. At 6’4 and over 100 kilograms, the former Judo champion was a genuine powerhouse at the back of the scrum for the Crusaders.

 

7: Scott Robertson

Two decades before Scott ‘Razor’ Robertson would make his name as a break-dancing coach for the Crusaders, he was one of their standout performers on the park. A ravenous scavenger at the breakdown and dynamic ball-runner, Robertson was one of the Crusaders most consistent performers during their inaugural title win in 1998. Robertson won four titles with the Crusaders across his 86 appearances between 1996 and 2003. After guiding the Canterbury Mitre 10 Cup side to numerous titles, Robertson was elevated to Head Coach of the Crusaders in 2017. Since Roberston took over the reins, the Crusaders have won three straight titles.

 

6: Todd Blackadder

Captain, o captain. A versatile and hard grafting loose forward or lock, Blackadder was the type of workhorse player that championship sides are built around. As a captain, Blackadder led with his actions and inspired the Crusaders onto a three-peat of titles from 1998-2000. The image of Blackadder hoisting the Super Rugby trophy aloft following the 1998 final has gone down as one of the all-time iconic images of Super Rugby.

 


5: Norm Maxwell

What is it with the name Norm? If Norm Berryman was the cult hero of the backline, then Norm Maxwell was most certainly the cult hero of the forward pack. A no-nonsense player, Maxwell showed little regard for his personal welfare as he threw his body into rucks and ran the ball hard and straight every time it was in his hands. The crowd loved him for it. Maxwell finished his career with 75 caps and four Super Rugby titles for the Crusaders. National recognition also followed with 36 Test for the All Blacks between 1999-2004.

 

4: Reuben Thorne

A future All Blacks and Crusaders captain, Thorne was a 23-year-old rookie in the Crusaders successful 1998 season. In a similar mold to Blackadder, Thorne was a versatile and tireless player. Thorne went onto make 129 appearances for the Crusaders before leaving the club in 2008, including captaining the side to their 2002 title.

 

3: Stu Loe

The man with perhaps the shortest name in the history of Super Rugby (can anyone beat just six letters for your full name?), Loe was an uncompromising front rower and rugged scrummager who played 26 times for the Crusaders between 1996-1998. The 1998 final would be Loe’s final appearance for the Crusaders as he would go on to represent the Hurricances in 1999 before retiring from representative rugby. An interesting footnote in Loe’s career is that he is regarded as the Crusaders first player by virtue of wearing the number one jersey in their first game of Super Rugby in 1996.

 

2: Mark Hammett

Mark Hammett was a player who took giant strides in the 1998 season. Always regarded as a reliable operator in the number two jersey, it was Hammett’s stand out performances in 1998 that gained the attention of national selectors and ensured the Crusaders were never bettered up front. As a player, Hammett made 81 appearances for the Crusaders between 1996-2003. Like many others from the 1998 squad, Hammett has since made his name in coaching with stints at the Crusaders, Hurricanes and currently, the Highlanders.

 

1: Kevin Nepia

Another consistent performer in the front row, Nepia made seven appearances for the Blues in their title winning side of 1996 before spending two memorable seasons with the Crusaders in 1997 and 1998. The 1998 final would be the last Super Rugby appearance for the then 30-year-old front rower. Other highlights of Nepia’s career included regular appearances for the Maori All Blacks (then NZ Maori) between 1992-1998 and winning four NPC titles with Auckland between 1994-1996.  

 

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