Johns gets off lightly in black day for league
17 August 2006Â
Sydney Morning Herald
SYDNEY: The old sporting adage "no one is bigger than the game" requires urgent amendment. For Andrew Johns has transcended rugby league.
Having gained more media attention than the Israel-Hezbollah conflict this week - even moving the federal Opposition Leader, Kim Beazley, to appeal for him to stay in the game - Johns's hopes of playing in the NRL finals are alive after his suspension for abusing a referee was reduced to two weeks.
The Hunter region presumably exhaled in unison when the decision was handed down last night, considering Johns's manager, John Fordham, had threatened that his client might retire from the NRL if the appeal had gone against him.
Johns's strategy was simple. Apologise. And hope for the best.
That was enough for the NRL panel to reduce the charge's severity, even though Johns had written a column in which he expressed no remorse for calling a touch judge, Matt Cecchin, a "c---" in the last minutes of Newcastle's match against Manly on Friday.
But in a move so tactically astute it rivalled Johns on the field, the Newcastle captain told the panel that the column - published two days after the match - was written soon after the game, while his emotions were still high.
Johns also reasoned that he was advised against approaching Cecchin this week, thus explaining the five-day lag between the fiery on-field incident and the forwarding of his letter of apology.
AdvertisementAdvertisement"I've seen the apology and I certainly accept it," Cecchin later said. "I have no trouble in putting it behind me and concentrating on this weekend. It's finished as far as I'm concerned."
This was no ordinary NRL judiciary hearing. During the case, the NRL's counsel, Peter Kite, reminded panel members that "even by the greats of the game ? [the abuse] could not be tolerated". The NRL judiciary chairman, Greg Woods, later urged the panellists not to take into account Fordham's threat that Johns might leave the game.
Johns watched silently as the video evidence was shown, head tilted to the left and hands in his lap.
He spoke only to tell the panel of his remorse, and to repeatedly inform them that the final few minutes of the match against Manly, when the abuse occurred, were "a blur".
Johns read aloud his letter to Cecchin, saying he "totally regretted the offence". He later said the next time he saw him and the referee, Paul Simpkins, "he would shake each official's hand".
As the panel adjourned, Johns smiled and nodded to the panel member Darren Britt. Even in this desperate situation, Johns had not lost his swagger.
but of a joke he was lucky to get away with only 2 weeks. still he will be around for the finals, if they make it that is.