Australian Test captain Andrew Johns made up for lost time as he successfully returned from a serious neck injury to steer the Newcastle Knights past the North Queensland Cowboys 12-10 in their NRL trial at Mackay on last night.
In his first hit out since August last year, Johns picked up where he left off to score Newcastle's first try, breaking the defence to set up the second and landing two converted goals to cement the hard-fought victory.
Johns had more work to do after the match as the Mackay fans swarmed the field to personally welcome back the champion halfback.
"I'm fine," was all Johns said to the media before he was whisked away to the team bus as the crowd pounced.
But Johns had answered the question hanging over him since he seriously injured his neck last year.
Five minutes into the match Johns flew at the defence as the Cowboys came out hard off their line.
He copped a tackle around his neck, shrugged it off and crashed over to score.
"There was no problem with his neck," Newcastle coach Michael Hagan said.
"I asked him about it a number of times.
"We gave him 60 minutes and that is about what we wanted from him.
"Sure he was blowing a bit but so was everybody else, that was an intense match and it was just what we wanted."
Johns seemed determined to display his full array of skills in his 60 minute stint, impressing with his attacking prowess while also bruising in defence.
There were long kicks, short kicks and towering bombs, but best of all there was the passing game which kept Cowboys defenders guessing.
Cowboys coach Graham Murray was happy after his side had weathered the early Johns storm and lost to powerful Newcastle by just two points.
"They threw everything at us, Joey Johns and all," Murray said.
"I suppose we are lucky again for a while now.
"But having said that, the game really needs players like him so it's great he's back.
"For ourselves it was a strong performance from our players with new recruits like Travis Norton at five-eighth fitting in well and others like Ty Williams at the back having to deal with those Joey kicks - that was a hard job.
"But everything considered it was a good hard hitout for us."
Both coaches said they were expecting their players to pull up sore but they were unaware of any injuries.Like