Andrew Johns: The Newcastle Knights favourite who became a rugby league icon

In 2012, Andrew Johns was elected as the eighth Immortal and the first to have played in the NRL era after a career which saw him regarded as one of the greatest half-backs ever to play the game. 

Love Rugby League has taken a trip down memory lane to revisit the career of a rugby league icon.

Johns showed considerable early promise for the sport when he was picked up by Newcastle’s academy at 14 years of age. 

His older brother Matthew had already been playing for the Knights for a year before, aged 19, Andrew made his first-team debut and marked it in stunning fashion, scoring 23 points and winning the man of the match award against the Rabbitohs. 

Fast forward just a couple of years and representative honours were called for Johns as he made his Origin bow for New South Wales and he also announced himself at international level with a sterling performance in the 1995 World Cup final against hosts England in one of his first games. 

The half-back’s ascent to world star had started at country level but the 1997 ARL season was where he made his name at club level.

The Knights had missed out on a finals spot the previous campaign but they were outstanding under the leadership of Johns, finishing second behind Manly in the regular season.

They suffered defeat to the Sea Eagles in the major qualifying final but they ended up meeting each other in the Grand Final.

Johns and Newcastle’s dream of a maiden title looked to have been dashed when they were faced with a 16-8 deficit at half-time. 

Robbie O’Davis added to his first half try with Johns converting and kicking a penalty as the scores were levelled with five minutes left. 

Extra-time loomed but the mercurial playmaker had other ideas as with seconds remaining, he slipped a pass to winger Darren Albert who raced over to score and seal a miraculous first Premiership for the Knights. 

In the next couple of seasons Newcastle could not repeat their success but on a personal level it was impressive for Johns as he claimed his the Dally M Medal for the NRL’s best player in 1998 and 1999 – the first times he had won the award. 

In 2001, Johns was given the captaincy for the Knights and further enhanced his standing as a club legend as he led them to another Grand Final victory, this time the scoring being 30-24 over Parramatta where he was awarded the Clive Churchill medal for being man of the match. 

The following season the half-back was made New South Wales and Australia captain and he became the first person to win three Dally M medals, with only Johnathan Thurston matching his feat. 

The 2005 State of Origin series is one of the performances Johns is most known for and is seen as the finest in Origin history.

He had been struggling with injury, playing just nine games in the past two seasons,  and came in for the second match with the Blues having lost the first encounter.

However, he starred with two try assists and had a hand in two others including a 40-20 kick that led to Anthony Minichello’s second as he won the man of the match award in a 32-22 win which levelled the series. 

New South Wales promptly won the series with a 32-10 victory in game three which would be their last series triumph until 2014 as they lost a record eight consecutive series to rivals Queensland.

#Origin

#Origin Game II 2005.The great Andrew Johns returns from injury to produce a stunning man-of-the-match performance to help level series.

Posted by NRL – National Rugby League on Wednesday, 29 May 2019

In August of that year, Johns agreed to join Super League side Warrington for a short stint, marking his debut in typical fashion with two assists before returning to the Knights.

Andrew Johns makes Warrington debut

🎙️ "The best player in the world is about to play in the Super League."🙌 When Andrew Johns made a memorable debut for Warrington Wolves back in 2005!🎞️ Comment what you'd like to see next on the #RugbyLeagueJukebox…

Posted by Rugby Football League on Friday, 24 April 2020

 

The following season started off well as Johns broke the record for all-time points at a single club, passing Jason Taylor’s record of 2,107 ironically enough against a Parramatta side coached by Taylor. 

In contrast, the 2007 campaign was the complete opposite as he was concussed in the opening minutes of round one against Canterbury. He returned in round three at Canberra but a training injury prompted him to seek a specialist who revealed that Johns had a bulging disc in his neck.

It was confirmed not to be related to the training incident but medical advice saw the Knights favourite make the decision to retire from the game at the age of 32. 

Understandably, without their star player Newcastle suffered, avoiding the wooden spoon courtesy of winning their last match. 

This was not the way a legend of the sport deserved to bow out but Johns will be forever remembered for securing Newcastle’s first title and an Origin performance that is still revered to this day. 

By Sam Harris

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