Round 14 of the NRL in 2003 produced a classic encounter between the Newcastle Knights and the St George Illawarra Dragons at what was then EnergyAustralia Stadium.
After the Knights had chased the Dragons’ lead for most of the game, Andrew Johns set up Anthony Quinn to score in the corner with seconds to spare, levelling the contest at 30-all.
As Johns lined up the conversion, commentator Ray Warren said something along the lines of: “If he gets this one, there’ll be a statue of Andrew Johns out front of this stadium by tomorrow.”
Joey kicked the goal, the Knights won 32-30 and the rest, as they say is history.
Except for the part where Newcastle built a statue of Joey.
After Artie Beetson’s tragic death this month came the news that a statue of him will be erected at Lang Park, to stand alongside the existing bronze of Wally Lewis and the soon-to-be-constructed one of Darren Lockyer.
South of the Tweed we’ve decided this is another Queensland initiative worthy of copying and have started building statues of our own.
As of 2010, a statue of Reg Gasnier stands in front of the SCG and Mark Geyer now sits on Edwin Flack Ave.
Even Ray “the voice of rugby league” Warren _ the very man who first suggested Joey’s statue _ has been immortalised in his home town of Junee.
So when are the people of Newcastle going to get their long-touted statue of Andrew Johns?
There really is no need to re-hash Johns’s achievements as a player but it’s fun to rattle them off.
He was the spearhead of Newcastle’s golden age during which the Knights made the finals every year from 1997 to 2003 and won two grand finals _ in 2001, when Johns was the Clive Churchill medallist as the best and fairest in the decider, and perhaps most importantly in 1997, when Joey went on the blind with 20 seconds to go before delivering the ball to Darren Albert and, with it, Newcastle’s maiden premiership.
As a New South Welshman he was part of another golden age, playing in nine State of Origin series in which the Blues won five, including our last victory in 2005. In that series, Joey stamped his authority as perhaps the most dominant halfback NSW has ever produced.
Furthermore, he was captain of his state in two series _ 2002 and 2003 _ and was named NSW halfback of the century in 2008.
Add to this already impressive list that he was named halfback in the ARL’s team of the century, is the only player to have won the Dally M medal on three occasions and one of only two players to receive the Golden Boot, as best player in the world, twice (the other being Lockyer).
Obviously naysayers to the Joey statue will point to his colourful life off the field, including his admission of recreational drug use and the racism controversy of 2010.
There is no excuse for these follies, but Joey was honest and forthright in owning up to them and showed genuine contrition. Besides, without wanting to rake muck on any worthy sportsmen who have been immortalised, it’s not as though they were all angels.
Artie was a renowned gambler and to say he had a battle with his weight is putting it lightly (no pun intended). King Wally was, and still is, a smoker and stories of him lighting up at halftime are now legendary.
As for MG? His statue depicts him sitting down in honour of the amount of time he spent on the bench because of suspension and sin-binnings. Furthermore, the plaque for this statue reads “I know where you live”, a threat MG once made to a linesman.
This isn’t pointed out in an attempt to vilify these men, merely to make the point that all people, no matter how high a pedestal they may be placed on, make mistakes.
But these mistakes in no way lessen the immense contribution they made to the game by their feats on the field.
And as feats on the field go, Andrew Johns was peerless, possibly the greatest of all time. His contribution to the game is immeasurable, particularly to the people of Newcastle.
So let’s give him a lasting form of recognition. Something that, years from now, when he brings his kids to watch the Knights play, he can show them so they will know what an important man their father was.
But most importantly let it stand, in the words of King Wally’s plaque, “to be an inspiration to future generations of footballers”.