Born out of the advent of professional rugby at the end of 1995, nine New Zealand provincial rugby unions came together to form the Wellington Hurricanes for the start of the inaugural Super 12 competition in 1996. The Wellington, Taranaki, Manawatu, Hawke's Bay, East Coast, Poverty Bay, Wanganui, Wairarapa-Bush and Horowhenua-Kapiti unions all formed the Hurricanes region. The new franchise was the largest of the five in New Zealand, representing 920,000 people.
The Hurricanes played the very first Super 12 match in 1996 against the Blues in Palmerston North and centre Alama Ieremia scored the competition's first try. Although the Hurricanes lost 28-36 and won just three of 11 matches in the first year against Transvaal, the Highlanders and the Chiefs, the foundations had been laid.
The second season in 1997 was the year the Hurricanes lit up the Super 12. Developing their own brand of 'ruck and run rugby' they galloped into the semi-finals for the first time on the back of a series of exhilarating wins. These included big wins over the Bulls in New Plymouth and the Cheetahs and Highlanders in Wellington, while Christian Cullen and Tana Umaga scored 23 tries between them during the year. 30,400 people packed Athletic Park to see the team defeated narrowly by the Brumbies in the last round, the team they missed out to in the semi-final a a week later in Canberra.
Captain Hurricane joined as the Hurricanes' mascot in 1998 and the side picked up from where they left off the previous season with three consecutive wins, before slipping to eighth. The first two of these victories were in Cape Town and Pretoria, meaning the Hurricanes became the first team to come away from South Africa with the maximum 10 points. They also became the first New Zealand team to defeat the Brumbies in Canberra, a match in which they also lost their founding captain Mark 'Bull' Allen to a career ending neck injury.
After slipping to tenth in 1999 and flattering to deceive under the new motto 'Expect the Unexpected', 2000's eighth placed finish was hugely disappointing after spending much of the competition among the frontrunners. New coaches Graham Mourie and Bryan Willams, a new waterfront stadium in Wellington, a name change to the Hurricanes from the 'Wellington' Hurricanes and the signing of All Blacks superstar Jonah Lomu all boded well for a change in fortunes. They opened the season with a 40-23 win over the Sharks at the new venue and won six from their first ten matches including a 28-22 win over the eventual champions Crusaders. But missing Lomu, Umaga and prop Gordon Slater, they lost their last two matches of the season in South Africa to the Stormers and Bulls and slipped from third to eighth in the last weekend of round-robin play.
With records of five wins and six losses in both 2001 and 2002, the Hurricanes finished ninth in each of thee seasons, but then rebounded in 2003 to make the semi-finals for the first time since 1997. Taranaki and assistant Crusaders coach Colin Cooper took over the head coaching reins in 2003 and appointed Tana Umaga captain, a liaison that brought immediate success. The team lost its first two games to the Crusaders in Christchurch and the Bulls in Napier, but came back to win seven in a row to qualify third. Travelling away to play the Crusaders for the second time in the season, they were defeated 16-39 in the semi-final. Another positive move in 2003 was the team's relocation to its new permanent training base in Newtown in Wellington, while the team farewelled their record try scorer Christian Cullen (56 tries) to Ireland after the semi-final.
2004 wasn't to be a vintage year for the Hurricanes who finished eleventh with just four victories. Although if their 20-21 loss to the Sharks and 26-all draw with the Blues the following week had been wins then they would have comfortably finished mid-table.
This was followed by a stellar 2005. With a dozen new players in the squad the Hurricanes won eight and lost three and reached the semi-finals of the last ever Rebel Sport Super 12 before its expansion to a 14-team competition from 2006. The team was unbeaten in its tour of Australia and South Africa and a successful new leadership structure was put in place that had a positive influence on the team environment and culture. Umaga became the first Hurricanes player to reach a century of appearances, celebrating a first ever win over the Blues in his 100th game. Once again though they lost at the semi-final stage in Christchurch to the Crusaders.
2006 was the Hurricanes' best ever season, reaching the final of the first Super 14. Under new captain Rodney So'oialo the Hurricanes won eleven games from 15 played, with highlights being the their first ever win at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria against the Bulls, wins in consecutive weeks over the Waratahs, including a 16-14 semi-final victory over them at Westpac Stadium, and the try scoring of right winger Lome Fa'atau who led the competition with ten tries.
Unfortunately the final against the Crusaders was ruined as a spectacle with a pall of mist descending on AMI Stadium in Christchurch. The Crusaders scored the game's only try to take the title 19-12. Long-serving first five-eighth David Holwell finally hung up his Huricanes boots at the end of 2006 after scoring a team record 676 points in his 76 matches from 1998-2004 and 2006.
Once more came the relative lows in 2007 after the highs of the previous season's success. They faced an uphill battle from the start, deprived of six All Blacks for the first seven rounds who were all held back in the Rugby World Cup 'reconditioning' squad and finished eighth. They did however achieve several excellent wins at Westpac Stadium, including a memorable defeat of eventual champions the Bulls.Umaga, lock Paul Tito, Lome Fa'atau and lock/flanker Luke Andrews all played their final games for the Hurricanes together in the final game of the season in Wellington against the Waratahs.
The Hurricanes reached the semi-finals once more in 2008, for the fifth time and fourth time in six seasons under the coaching of Cooper. Once more they played the Crusaders in Christchurch in the knockout stages and again were defeated, this time 22-33. Ma'a Nonu was the star of the backline scoring seven tries in 11 games, while hooker Andrew Hore led the forwards with a super consistent year. The 2008 Super 14 season was also one of change, played under the new IRB Experimental Law Variations (ELVS). Popular loose forward Jerry Collins also left for overseas at the end of 2008 after 85 matches and eight seasons.
The Hurricanes finished a credible third at the end of the 2009 round-robin series, the fifth time in the past seven seasons that they had made the top four. But like three out of four of these recent playoff seasons before them, they failed to progress to the final, losing to the Chiefs 10-14 in Hamilton. Their season record of nine wins from 13 round robin games was their second best ever in terms of wins in the round-robin stage, behind 2006 when they had 10 victories from 13 round robin matches. In 2009 The Hurricanes were the leading attacking side at the end of the round-robin, ending the season with 390 points and exactly 50 tries for the year. Individually, Ma’a Nonu was the competition’s leading try-scorer with nine tries.
2010 was the final year in charge of the Hurricanes for Head Coach Colin Cooper, who bowed out after eight years and 104 games at the helm. Cooper had guided the team to the playoffs in 2003, 2005, 2006 (final), 2008 and 2009. The season also brought an end to the Hurricanes career of current Operations Manager and former Manager Tony Bedford, a foundation member of the Hurricanes Management and 15-time South African tourist.
The franchise’s 2010 campaign was a roller coaster one. The franchise won its first three games, lost the next four – all to South African opposition – launched a four-game winning streak, then dipped out of contention in the last game where a win over the Waratahs would have been enough to reach the semi-finals again.
Andrew Hore took over the captaincy for 2010 from Rodney So’oialo who had led the team to the playoffs three times since 2006. It was also a notable year for some members of the squad: So’oialo becoming the second Hurricanes player to reach 100 games for the franchise and Conrad Smith, John Schwalger and Tamati Ellison also reaching the milestone of 50 games.
Their season record was won seven, lost five and drawn one in 13 matches. Winger David Smith was the leading try scorer with seven tries and halfback Piri Weepu the leading points scorer with 75. Four players – hooker Hore, prop Tialata, lock/flanker Michael Paterson and second five-eighth Nonu – started in every match 2010, while a fifth, prop John Schwalger, played in every match (twice off the bench).