On that fateful night in 2003, the Blues edged the Crusaders 21-17 in front of a packed house at Eden Park to win their third Super Rugby crown. Not many people would have picked an almost 20-year wait for the Blues to get another shot at glory, but the wait is almost over. This Saturday, the Blues will host the Highlanders in the Sky Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final at Eden Park.
Ahead of the historic final this Saturday, we look back at the last Blues line-up to contest a final in 2003.
15: Doug Howlett
Doug Howlett was one of the heroes of the Blues 2003 campaign with 12 tries in the season, including a crucial try in the final. He continued his try-scoring feats on the international stage with an All Blacks record of 49 tries from his 62 Tests. After playing his final game for the All Blacks and Blues in 2007, Howlett went onto become a fan favourite at Munster where he played 112 matches before joining the Irish club in an off-field role as the Head of Commercial and Marketing. Howlett returned to New Zealand with his family in 2019.
14: Joe (Josevata) Rokocoko
Debuting as a 19-year-old for the Blues in 2003, Rokocoko made a huge impression with six tries across 13 appearances and was rewarded with a call-up to the All Blacks that same year. The electric Fijian-born wing finished with 46 Test tries from 68 Tests played between 2003-10. Rokocoko went onto became a mainstay in France, playing 98 games for Bayonne before finishing his career with Racing 92 in 2019.
13: Mils Muliaina
More commonly recognised as a fullback, Mils Muliaina played the majority of the 2003 season at centre with Doug Howlett claiming the 15 jersey. Muliaina split his 10-year Super Rugby career between the Blues and the Chiefs with the 2003 title being the undoubted highlight of his time in Super Rugby. He went onto become a globe-trotting star with stints playing in Japan, Ireland, Italy and USA before retiring in 2016. He currently works as a broadcaster for Sky TV and studied to become a chiropractor.
12: Sam Tuitupou
Regarded as one of the hardest tacklers in the game, Tuitupou was a key part of the Blues success in 2003. Starting at second five-eighth in 11 of the Blues 12 games in 2003, Tuitupou crossed the line for four tries and formed a rock-solid midfield defensive line with Mils Muliaina. Tuitupou went onto play 51 times for the Blues and played nine Tests for the All Blacks. He went on to become a popular player in the UK for Worcester, Munster, Sale and Coventry before retiring in 2019. In November 2020, Tuitupou created a podcast called the ‘Red Card Club’ alongside former Samoan international Dan Leo.
11: Rico Gear
Rico Gear spent most of 2003 either starting from the bench or at centre before Fijian-flyer Rupeni Caucaunibuca was injured prior to the semifinal against the Brumbies. Gear wore the 11 jersey in both the semifinal and final for the Blues in place of Caucaunibuca. Gear made the switch to the Crusaders in 2005 and scored a then-record of 15 tries in a single season. The Gisborne-born speedster scored 11 tries in 19 Tests for the All Blacks and won a gold medal at the 1998 Commonwealth Games with the New Zealand Sevens team. After stints in the UK and Japan, Gear returned to New Zealand to finish his playing career with Poverty Bay in the Heartland Championship.
10: Carlos Spencer
A cult hero for the Blues, ‘King Carlos’ was at the peak of his powers in 2003. Gifted with x-factor and natural charisma, Spencer was a playmaker of the highest order who made things happen from nothing. In the final, Spencer played a steadying hand with three well-struck penalties to give the Blues the edge. Spencer finished his time with the Blues in 2005 and went on to have a decorated playing and coaching career in the UK, South Africa and finally back in New Zealand. Following a stint on the Hurricanes coaching staff in 2019 and 2020, Spencer was last spotted performing epic trick shots on social media during the 2020 Covid-19 lockdown.
9: David Gibson
David Gibson had a meteoric rise in his first season with the Blues in 2003. The Taranaki-born halfback spent most of the season riding the pine behind regular halfback Steve Devine. When Devine was injured prior to the final, Gibson pulled on the nine jersey and played the full 80 minutes for the Blues. Gibson has gone on to forge a successful career off the pitch working for the NZ Rugby Players Association before being appointed as CEO of North Harbour Rugby.
8: Xavier Rush (C)
Captain and No. 8 Xavier Rush followed in the footsteps of fellow No.8 Zinzan Brooke who captained the Blues to their first two titles in 1996 and 1997. Rush played a total of 86 games for the Blues from 1997-2005 and appeared in eight Tests for the All Blacks. The powerful loose forward went on to play six seasons for the Cardiff Blues and is currently a clinic owner and manager for Head Quarters Hair Transplants in Cardiff, Wales.
7: Dan Braid
A top quality openside flanker, Daniel Braid would have undoubtedly played many more than just six Tests for the All Blacks if he wasn’t sitting behind the great Richie McCaw in the pecking order. Braid started in 12 of the Blues 13 games in 2003 and scored a try in the final against the Crusaders. Braid enjoyed a stint playing in the UK before returning to New Zealand where he currently works as a Real Estate Agent for Bayleys on the North Shore of Auckland.
6: Justin Collins
A legend of Northland and Blues rugby, Justin ‘Gus’ Collins made 92 appearances for the Blues before retiring in 2009. Collins started in every game for the Blues in 2003, scoring two tries and forming a potent loose forward combination with Xavier Rush and Dan Braid. Off the field, Collins went onto work for the NZ Rugby Players Association and was recognized for his work with the NZRPA Kirk Award at the New Zealand Rugby Awards in 2016.
5: Angus MacDonald
A versatile player who had the ability to cover both the second row and the loose forwards, Angus MacDonald closed out the 2003 season as the main locking partner to Ali Williams. He was a great servant of Blues and Auckland rugby until he finished his time in New Zealand 2007. MacDonald went onto have considerable success playing in both Japan and Scotland before returning to New Zealand to take up a number of business interests.
4: Ali Williams
Towering lock Ali Williams started in all 13 of the Blues games in 2003 and went onto play over 100 games for the side. Williams also tasted Super Rugby success in his one and only season with the Crusaders in 2008 and won a Rugby World Cup with the All Blacks in 2011. The King’s College educated second rower finished his playing career in France before returning to New Zealand in 2017. He has since kept a relatively low profile although recently hit the headlines for rescuing a beached whale at Mangawhai.
3: Kees Meeuws
After playing his first five seasons of Super Rugby with the Highlanders, Kees Meeuws quickly became a cornerstone for the Blues during his time there from 2002-2004. Regarded as one of the most powerful props ever produced in New Zealand, Meeuws became a popular figure in France where he played for Castres and Agen. Meeuws was last spotted on the TV3 show ‘Match Fit’ in 2020 alongside a host of other former stars.
2: Keven Mealamu
One of the GOATs of Blues and New Zealand rugby, Mealamu racked up 164 appearances for the Blues from 2000-2015. After retiring from rugby in 2015 as a double Rugby World Cup winner and an All Blacks centurion, Mealamu has become a fixture on the Auckland cross-fit scene and also acted as an ambassador for New Zealand rugby.
1: Deacon Manu
Fijian international Deacon Manu spent most of his Super Rugby career with the Chiefs but will undoubtedly look back on his single season with the Blues as the highlight. Manu made nine appearances across the 2003 season and kept future All Blacks centurion Tony Woodcock on the bench. Manu played professionally until 2014 and was last sighted coaching in Singapore in 2020.
Reserves: Lee Stensness, Orene Ai'i, Craig McGrath, Mose Tuiaili'i, Brad Mika, Tony Woodcock, Derren Witcombe.
Despite having a stacked bench for the final, Only Derren Whitcombe, Tony Woodcock and Brad Mika made it on the field. For Woodcock, his cameo off the bench would be topped eight years later when he scored the All Blacks only try of the 2011 Rugby World Cup final.
The Blues take on the Highlanders in the Sky Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final at 7.05pm on Saturday 19 June at Eden Park. Get your TICKETS HERE.