Andrew Johns
Andrew Johns

Johns bad boy behaviour frowned upon by Immortal club

LAST year when the judges gathered to vote on rugby league's eighth Immortal, the over-riding judgment we had to make was whether Andrew Johns, the person, deserved to be admitted to the most revered club in our game.

In essence it was a two-horse race between Johns and Mal Meninga, although Norm Provan was also in the frame despite having retired almost half a century earlier.

The judges had gathered in Sydney and the selection criterion was once again laid bare to us - nothing but their ability as a player was to be considered.

To divulge there was some spirited debate is giving nothing away.

After all, The Immortals is an exclusive and prestigious group.

It's history now that Johns was ultimately selected as the eighth Immortal and the announcement made at the lavish Men of League black tie ball a few months later.

On the night he was humbled, and enthusiastically welcomed to the inner sanctum by his fellow inductees.

But approval from the rank-and-file fans was not universal.

A self-confessed user of recreational drugs during his career, Johns was often involved in off-field controversy.

Two days after the announcement I turned up at my golf club and from the moment I arrived was pilloried by blokes who were aware I was a judge.

Admittedly most were one-eyed Queenslanders who had considered Big Mal a shoe in, but the consensus was that Johns - because of his off-field antics - did not deserve the honour.

With a 30-plus year career commenting on rugby league and well accustomed to copping my share of vitriol, I have developed a fairly thick skin.

But this day I had one post-golf beer and headed home. No one had supported the induction of Johns.

None of the other Immortals - Raper, Gasnier, Langlands, Churchill, Fulton, Lewis and Beetson - would claim to have been model custodians of the game during their playing days.

And each, I would suggest, would have a skeleton in their closet.

But what is disappointing about Johns is that he has demeaned the honour bestowed upon him.

Respected names in the game put their reputations on the line when voting him a member of this elite club and in less than 12 months he has stained that trust.

I don't know Andrew Johns well enough to judge him as a person, but others do.

His brother dismisses this most recent controversy surrounding champion mare More Joyous with the comment 'his dramas don't interest me.

I already have two children, I don't need a third'.

And John Singleton adds 'how can he be so strong on the field and so weak off it?'

As an Immortals judge, I ask myself that same question.