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4 days ago
Newcastle Knights captain Andrew Johns will play for New Zealand on their 2007 rugby league tour of England.
Johns has accepted the New Zealand Rugby League's (NZRL) offer to be the updated version of Dally Messenger on the 12-game trip that will recreate the first professional tour by the New Zealand All Golds in 1907-08 organised by Albert Baskiville.
Baskiville famously raided rugby union's ranks to form a team to play the new professional game that had taken off in the north of England.
On their way to England the All Golds played three games against New South Wales, under rugby union rules, primarily to raise more money for the trip.
The NSW side lost all three but the New Zealand team were so impressed with halfback Dally Messenger they asked him to join the tour.
He scored 146 points on the 37 games in England - 101 more than the next best - then returned to Sydney and took Easts to three consecutive premiership titles.
He later captained Australia and by the time he finished playing, was nicknamed "The Master".
Johns said it was an honour to take on Messenger's role with the Kiwis.
"He is probably one of the biggest names to have played the game, so I'm rapt."
Johns was more circumspect about the likely reaction of Australians to him donning a Kiwis jersey.
"At the moment I'm copping it left, right and centre in Australia about going to England (to play for Warrington) so I don't know what they are going to say, but it's a good opportunity to play with players I never thought I would play with," Johns said.
NZRL president Selwyn Pearson had suggested the Kiwis tour party, who would play clubs the All Golds played, take one top-notch Australian with them in the role of Dally Messenger.
Former Kiwis winger and selector Daryl Halligan was working with the Knights on kicking and mentioned this to Johns, who told Halligan he was interested.
Pearson made the offer official and Johns accepted yesterday.
"Isn't that wonderful," Pearson said.
"I threw his name out as a bit of a tickler - the crowds are going to love it. They'll get a taste of what he's like this year with Warrington and then it will be wonderful to have him back as a New Zealand selection in 2007."
The All Golds played clubs including Leeds, St Helens, Wigan, Huddersfield, Wakefield Trinity, Widnes, Salford, Hull and Bradford. So will the Kiwis, although the itinerary is yet to be settled.
The Johns arrangement became a possibility once he re-signed with the Newcastle Knights through to 2007, when he will be 33.
He had announced that he would retire from representative football at the end of next year's State of Origin series but will now go on to the end-of-2007 Kiwis' tour.
"To think that 100 years after rugby league's first international tour, they would pick me to fill such an historic role is absolutely incredible," he said yesterday.
Messenger's real name was Herbert Henry Messenger.
He got the nickname "Dally" because as a child he looked like the then-Premier of NSW, William Bede Dalley. The "e" was dropped but the name stuck.