NSW’s State of Origin II preparations are in crisis after assistant coach Andrew Johns stood down, admitting he made a racial slur against Queensland superstar Greg Inglis.
League great Johns on Saturday night became the second member of the Blues set-up to quit their Origin camp following Parramatta star Timana Tahu, who walked out in protest at Johns’ comment.
“Two nights ago while trying to talk up the match I made a disparaging comment about a member of the other team and in the process of that I referred to the colour of his skin,” Johns said in a statement.
“I should have thought more what I was saying about a player whom I have always admired and respected and I hope to speak with Greg (Inglis) soon to explain what happened.
“I only hope that by stepping aside I can show others how seriously I am taking this issue and hopefully others may learn from it as well.”
On a day of high drama for the Blues, who are already staring down the barrel of an unprecedented fifth straight series defeat, the Nine Network reported Johns as telling centre Beau Scott he needed to stop “that black c***”, a reference to Maroons Aboriginal star Inglis.
In the report, Johns denied he was a racist.
A NSWRL statement said Johns had apologised to both Inglis and Tahu, only realising the “true effect” of his comments after speaking with the Eels centre on Saturday.
“I would love nothing more than to see Timana re-enter the team,” Johns said.
“It is something I deeply regret and I will do all I can to repair my friendships with both Greg and Timana and to regain the respect of those I have let down.”
Stunned Blues officials had been forced to call upon Canberra Raiders winger Joel Monaghan as a late replacement for Tahu, whose mother is Aboriginal.
Tahu said earlier on Saturday he was “hurt” and “devastated” after sensationally walking out of camp on Friday.
“Joey said something which he thought was just some banter amongst the boys that I took offence to,” said Tahu, who played with Johns in Newcastle’s 2001 premiership-winning side.
“It is something I feel strongly about.
“To sacrifice my NSW Origin jumper and to give up the chance of bringing the trophy back to NSW is obviously something I gave a lot of thought to.
“But I felt I had to make a statement that this sort of behaviour in any environment is unacceptable and, as a senior player, I had to show that.
“The fact that it came from someone on the coaching staff that is highly respected in the game and has such influence in rugby league, and someone I have known for a long time, made it more hurtful.
“It has naturally devastated me that this has happened.”
The same statement said Johns had phoned Tahu on Saturday after learning of his protest.
“I said something without thinking which I deeply regret,” the former Test and NSW skipper said.
“It wasn’t said with any malice but it was ignorant and I realise how inappropriate it was and that it was not acceptable.
“I have learned a massive lesson from this and I am devastated that it caused Timana to give up his Origin jersey.
“I am deeply sorry I have hurt Timana, who is someone I have always had a lot of respect for, and his family too.
“I can’t apologise strongly enough. I look forward to sitting down with Timana and learning from him what is acceptable when it comes to sensitive issues such as this.”