Between 1994 and 1996, the Waikato region was represented by the Waikato Cougars in the Lion Red Cup competition. The teams inaugural captain was Tukere Barlow while Joe Gwynne was the coach. The team was originally going to be called the Stags or the Chiefs before the Cougars nickname was selected.
The Waikato Cougars won the Super League Challenge Cup in 1997, defeating Canterbury in the final. During this year they also defeated Auckland at Carlaw Park for the first time since 1943 and won the Rugby League Cup. They defended the Rugby League Cup in 1998.