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Opinion

Newcastle deserve a statue of Andrew Johns at McDonald Jones Stadium

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16th November, 2019
55

Been saying it for years. Years! Yet more than a decade after he called time on his illustrious career – a career which saw him play all 249 of his NRL matches for the Newcastle Knights – there is still no statue of Andrew Johns at McDonald Jones Stadium.

In fact, there are no statues at all. But we’ll get to that.

First, let’s just go over how large Joey continues to loom over the club.

A Cessnock boy, Johns exploded into Newcastle’s first-grade side in 1994, scoring 23 points on debut against South Sydney.

In 1997, he hauled himself out of a hospital bed with one bung lung to play a starring role in the ARL decider. Darren Albert may have scored the try but it was Joey who had the foresight to go down the blind and set up the unforgettable match-winner.

In 2001, Johns was the captain and Clive Churchill Medallist as the Knights claimed their first premiership in a unified competition.

Johns also captained his state and country – the first Knight to have done so – and his efforts in the 2005 Origin series remain among the finest representative efforts in the history of rugby league.

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When he called time in 2007, he had scored a then-record 2176 points, won three Dally M Medals, two Golden Boot awards, five Provan-Summons awards (as fans’ favourite), a World Cup MVP, and a partridge in a pear tree.

He completely revolutionised the game from an attacking perspective and – key to why he’s better than Johnathan Thurston – was one of fiercest defenders to ever lay a shoulder into a prop forward.

So it was no surprise he was named the eighth Immortal and selected at halfback in the ARL’s Team of the Century.

He was the best. Simple as that.

And for the people of Newcastle and the Hunter, it means the best was one of ours.

That’s worth immortalising in bronze.

Yet the region’s pre-eminent sporting ground has no permanent reminder of the man’s greatness. Sure, there’s a stand named after him, but ask Doug Walters how temporary that can be.

A statue though? It takes more than a coat of paint to ‘rename’ one of those.

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Naturally, there will be those who read the headline, skipped the article and jumped straight to comments to write: “Drugs! Drugs! He was on drugs!”

Well done you – very clever, insightful and funny. You’re amazing and everyone thinks you’re awesome.

Also…

Yes, Johns admitted to taking recreational drugs during his career and faced a range of personal issues. I’m not going to denigrate other people who have been immortalised, I’ll simply say that no one is perfect and if a completely clean record was a prerequisite for being remembered, history would be recorded in geography books.

Besides, his penchant for dancefloor-enhancing supplements had been well documented long before he was named in the Team of the Century, became an Immortal and – as an indication of his acceptance in the broader sporting community – was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.

Off the field, Johns isn’t perfect. But on the field, he was pretty darn close and that’s what we want to remember.

As to why I’m revisiting this now, some eight years after I first floated the idea, that’d be because there’s a red-hot chance of it actually happening thanks to a far more committed effort – the Andrew Johns Statue Supporters Group – headed up by legendary Roarer Karlo Tychsen.

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A rusted-on Newcastle fan who attended the Knights’ very first home game way back in 1988, Karlo is a man possessed about getting this statue built.

“There is a statue of Wally Lewis in Brisbane and there’s going to be one of Johnathan Thurston in Townsville,” Karlo says.

“Other sports have commemorated their greats – and rightly so, because legends deserve to be commemorated – let’s pay just tribute to ours!”

He’s getting results too – the group’s Facebook page has some 1500 followers (and the best memes on the internet), the Change.org petition has over 1100 signatures, while a GoFundMe has raised over $3000.

Hell, even Queenslanders are on board.

Wendell Sailor supports #BronzeForJohns.Do you? #BuildTheStatue

Posted by Andrew Johns Statue Supporters Group on Friday, 15 November 2019

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In terms of media coverage, the push to get Johns in bronze has been covered by NBN News, the Newcastle Herald, the Maitland Mercury, virtually all the region’s radio stations, and received national coverage in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph.

Karlo has also been in contact with the CEO of Venues NSW, Paul Doorn, whose response acknowledged that “a statue to commemorate Andrew Johns would be an inspiration too (sic) many”.

Perhaps most importantly, the great man himself is aware of the campaign – and, in typical Joey fashioned, deflected praise.

At this point, it would be remiss of me not to mention that this isn’t a plug to raise money for the statue. The country is on fire. You know where to donate your hard-earned right now.

However, in terms of cost, Darren Lockyer’s statue at Suncorp – yeah, that bloody Queenslander who retired four years after Joey had his statue built years ago and just months after he hung up his boots – came in at about $65,000. Not chump change, but hardly prohibitively expensive considering the Knights posted a $1 million profit last year, the NRL cleared $46 million profit in 2018, while McDonald Jones averaged 19,052 fans at Knights games this season. Those fans in red and blue are central to the venue’s success.

What’s more, as Doorn outlined in his letter to the Supporters group, Venues NSW is planning to totally transform the Hunter Sports and Entertainment Precinct.

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Know what would look great as part of the redevelopment? Statues – and not just of Johns, but of all the region’s sporting legends.

How about Knights legends Paul ‘The Chief’ Harragon, Danny Buderus and Michael Hagan, as well as football greats such as Ray Baartz, Col Curran and Craig Johnston.

Chuck in the likes of Mark Richards, Suzy Batkovic, Belinda Clark and the greatest cheerleader of all time, Jennifer Hawkins, and you’ve got the makings of a sporting walk of fame that would be the precinct’s centrepiece, sure to attract sporting fans from the world over and therefore more than pay for itself by injecting tourism dollars into the economy.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

First things first, a statue of Andrew Johns. The people of Newcastle deserve a permanent reminder that the greatest rugby league player of all time was one of our own.

Lord knows they’re not learning it from the current crop.