The Freak Show: The More Things

Well season 2004 has finally arrived, and from the looks of things, nothing much has changed. The Cowboys are still choking in games that they should win, the Bulldogs still have the best backline in the league, (for the next few weeks at least) and our beloved Sharkies still couldn?t score in a whorehouse. To watch last night?s performance, you could swear that you were still watching 2003. The dropped balls, the backline circus with Peachey taking out Noddy, the simple mistakes, the general inability to get over the line, and the grubbers, my god the grubbers. Where were the flowing backline movements we had seen in the trials? Where was the communication? The heart and the passion? All of the above were missing last night, and if nothing is done to rectify these problems, it could be a long season. That said it?s only round one, and perhaps the ghosts of Anderson will take a little longer to exorcise than we?d hoped. Of course if the ref isn?t going to police the ten metres, then you?re always going to see performances like we saw last night.

So yeah, the more things change, the more they stay the same. On Friday night Gidley threw flick passes, Newcastle unveiled yet another promising backline talent, and Andrew Johns got special treatment. What is it with the NRL and their refusal to treat Johns like everyone else in the league? As pointed out in this column last year, Joey is already given free reign to drop forearms and let loose head high tackles at will, but what we witnessed on Friday night, must surely beat all. Late in the game on Friday night, with the Knights holding onto a slim six point lead, Johns went down with cramps. Cramps happen, it sucks, but in most cases the player would have to simply walk it off, or be interchanged by his coach for treatment on the sideline. This rule has applied to everyone in the entire history of the game, whether your name is Meninga, Sterling, or Lewis. Apparently though, this rule does not apply if your name is Johns. Yes, you guess it, on Friday night instead of being expected to play on or be interchanged, Johns was given special treatment. He had cramps, and the game was stopped to accommodate him. When Tim Mander, the supposed top referee in the game, saw that Johns was cramping he simply said, ?Go down Joey. We?ll wait for you.?

?WE?LL WAIT FOR YOU?? ?WE?LL WAIT FOR YOU?? Why the hell are we waiting for him? What makes Johns so special that he is allowed to go down and receive treatment while the Newcastle team gets a breather, and the Panthers are forced to cool their heels, and lose all momentum. Now I appreciate the fact that Johns was probably in pain. Cramps suck, we?ve all had them. But Johns is supposedly the best player in a game where pain is simply par for the course. Ask Adam Dykes if he was in pain when Johns dropped a forearm on his head, and the answer will be yes. Ask Joel Clinton if he was in pain when Johns nearly took his head off a year later, and the answer will be yes. Did the game stop for either of these individuals so that they could receive treatment and play on? No. Each had to either drop back out of the line or be interchanged, thus weakening their respective teams for the rest of the game. Two years on, is the same standard applied to Johns? Of course not. He gets to go down and receive treatment. What?s next, a martini and a hooker while he waits? Come on people!

If it had have been anyone else in the league, then the game would never have stopped like it did. Yes, Newcastle had the scrum, but its not like Danny Buderus or Kurt Gidley are incapable of feeding a scrum themselves. If Brett Kimmorley had have gone down, the scrum would have been fed by Bird or Peachey. If Brent Sherwin had have gone down, it?s Thurston or Anasta. If it had have been Craig Gower, then Campbell or Priddis. This is what would have happened, and this is what all would have expected. No one else in the league would have received such blatantly biased special treatment, and no one else in the league would have expected it. Only Andrew Johns would ever be treated like he is bigger than the game itself. What on earth are we going to do next year when he?s off playing for Bradford?

Peter Sterling once said that rugby league was about pulling yourself back up when you didn?t think you could do it anymore, and by God he was right. Rugby league, and all sports for that matter, are about pushing the pain barrier, and going on when it seems impossible. That?s what true champions do. Lance Armstrong battled back from cancer to win four consecutive Tour De France?s, and never expected a break when he got cramps. Michael Jordan once scored forty points in a finals game as he battled mass exhaustion and the flu. He collapsed in a teammate?s arms after scoring the winning basket, but never asked for a break because he was tired. Not so long ago, Andrew Johns himself played in the entire grand final with broken ribs against all medical advice to the contrary. That?s the kind of thing that true champions just do. I stand corrected. I guess things have changed after all.