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Will two words end an era?
I promised myself this week not to discuss at length the fairness or otherwise of Andrew Johns? punishment, only to say that while I feel he deserved disciplinary action, two weeks was probably the appropriate suspension in the first place.
What seems to be lost in the hyperbole this week is the long term significance the Johns suspension may have on the Newcastle Knights. For many younger fans the Knights and Joey Johns have been almost one and the same. He has been their dominant player, their leader, their spokesman and, for the many non-League followers, an icon of the club. He makes sponsors happy and fans overjoyed with his prowess. But what can be forgotten is that the Knights did exist prior to the exploits of Mr A. Johns. Some will remember them as a team with an intimidating forward pack, and a mix of young locals and veterans searching for a second chance. When players such as Mark Sargeant and Brad Godden were selected for Australian teams they were the toast of the town, and despite the teams poor showing, fans still came to watch in large numbers. Importantly, like many teams, no one person, be it a player or administrator, was bigger than the team.
Ever since Joey rejected Rugby Union and resigned with the Knights in 2004 he became larger than life. However an air of inevitability has also hung over his career. Fans, administrators and players all understand that in his last contract, and with a weary body, the end of the ?Johns Era? is nigh. Plans have been initiated in preparation for his departure with the signing of Brian Smith as coach and the development of Jarrod Mullen. All that seems to be left is for Johns to give the word, and prepare for one massive farewell.
Which brings us to this week?s events. While the media, talkback radio and Knights fans have discussed the impact Joey?s suspension will have on the teams push towards the finals, it?s the long term consequences that may have more impact. The question for all NRL fans is: Are we witnessing the beginning of the end of the John?s Era? Joey has regularly lamented being placed in a fishbowl existence, being the most famous player in the game and the most recognised figure in his hometown. This week John?s, via his manager, threatened to leave the NRL immediately and take off to Super League if the result in the judiciary didn?t go his way. The UK based competition is the same one Joey played in last year, apparently loving the anonymity that came with living in a foreign country. While I don?t feel for a second that John?s was genuinely contemplating leaving for the UK, his comments are an insight into what?s going through his mind at the moment, and it may suggest that he?s preparing for the end of the road.
Despite the hype surrounding John?s suspension and fight for a lower grading, the show goes on at Newcastle. The team has trained without Johns this week, with their halves combination being Kurt Gidley and Jarrod Mullen, who are both signed up until at least 2008. The Knights seem more settled than they did the last time they had to play without Joey, perhaps in the knowledge that this may be their reality one day soon. So Knights fans, don?t spend the next few weeks upset that your best player is not playing, sit back and enjoy the rehearsals for the post-Johns era as they go on tour.