The Hunter Mariners were created more out of necessity than anything else at the height of the Super League war. In fact, if the Newcastle Knights kept their initial agreement to join News Limited the Mariners never would have been.
In early 1995, Super League negotiators were kept in Brisbane for an extra day which allowed Australian Rugby League heavyweight and former Labor Senator Graham Richardson to swoop in and put forward a case for the ARL.
A campaign was run under the heading ’Aussies for the ARL’ which swayed local support toward the Knights staying loyal to the ARL.
Super League, knowing just how big rugby league was in the Hunter Valley continued on their quest for a local side in the breakaway compertition.
The club would be predominately owned by News Limited and had even been given permission to use the Newcastle Knights home ground at Marathon Stadium. That was quickly snuffed out as the Mariners were taken to the supreme court. The Mariners eventually decided on the Newcastle Breakers soccer venue, Topper stadium.
The Mariners playing roster was mostly made up of Knights rookies and prospects with the likes of Brett Kimmorley, Scott Hill, Robbie Ross and Richard Swain signing on. Mark Sargent, Brad Godden and Robbie McCormack were the only real top line Knights the Mariners could secure. Sargent would not play a game for the club.
The Super League competition was to kick off in early 1996 with the Mariners season launch in Newcastle harbour. On the very day of their launch, Justice Burchett handed down his decision against Super League. Players and staff were left with nothing to do for an entire year.
In their one and only season, the Mariners lost all nine games away from home but kept a respectable record at home which included a seven game winning streak.
Midway through the ’97 season, Hunter competed in the seriously misguided World Club Challenge. The Challenge was made up of sides from both the Australian Super League and the newly up and running English Super League.
Evidence of a complete mismatch between the competitions was soon apparent as the Mariners comfortably defeated Paris St Germain, Castleford and Sheffield in England. They then beat all three sides on the return leg in Australia to qualify for the Finals.
Surprisingly, they then upset heavyweights Wigan at Central Park before beating 1997 Super League grand finalists Cronulla in the Semi-Final.
Mariners came up against the might of the Brisbane Broncos in the final and were trounced in front of a dead crowd at Mount Smart Stadium in Auckland.
Through all the doom and gloom and with the fat lady over their shoulder throughout 1997, the Mariners almost became a “World championship side”. Despite the compertition being somewhat of an atrocity, the Mariners had played some impressive football to make the Final.
With the war almost at an end and a truce looming between ARL and Super League, the Hunter Mariners never stood a chance of survival in the new twenty team NRL competition.
The Newcastle Knights had just beaten Manly Sea Eagles in the greatest grand final of all time in the ARL and community support for the Knights was at fever pitch.
The Hunter Mariners were dead.