When moving down the list of all-time Rugby League scores, there is quite a gap betwixt number one Hazem El Masri and number two, our subject for this piece, Andrew Johns (19 May 1974). Johns trails El Masri by 242 points and that is almost totally due to tries scored, because Johns is one of only two players in the history of the game in Australia to have tallied more goals than El Masri. In any event, Andrew Johns is one of just four players with more than 2,000 points to his credit. One interesting aspect of the 2,000-point plateau is that all four men played in the last decade of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st.
Of course, career longevity plays a key role in all-time sports records. Johns played 15 seasons from 1993 to 2007, adding up to 249 matches played. When he retired after 2007 when he only played two times for Newcastle, he set the all-time scoring record with 2176 points, 69 ahead of the record he was chasing belonging to Jason Taylor, who retired in 2001 having 2107 points after passing Daryl Halligan’s 2034, the record established in 2000. El Mari had two seasons in which to pass Andrew Johns; he trailed Johns by 136 points after the 2007 season, so Johns would have been fairly certain that he record would fall soon, but he did get to enjoy it for a while, since at the end of the 2008 season, El Masri was still trailing, but only by only six points.
We have written before of how record-holding players benefited from having the target established for them by earlier players and this example would certainly bear witness to our observation.
Here is a further look at Andrew Johns and the position he occupies on the all-time scorers list as of 2015. Accolades declared him the best halfback in the world at one time. He also played hooker at times. We do intend to ignore his short-lived-post-rugby foray into cricket, since so many felt that it was done as an attempt to cash in on his reputation, and his cricket achievements did little to counter that suspicion.
Andrew Johns grew up and played junior rugby in Cessnock, New South Wales. The town is around 50 kilometres west of Newcastle, so it could be said that Johns was fortunate to be a hometown boy playing not far from the Newcastle home base of the Knights. His obvious ability saw him on the Knights’ junior ranks when he was just 15. He jumped to the first grade at the age of 19, playing three games. He moved into a full-time role in the 1994 season, making his debut against the Rabbitohs, where he scored 23 points in the game. His first season saw him tallying 162 points, fifth on the season list. Everyone ahead of him that season played two to four games more as well. The Knights could manage only nine wins that season against 13 losses that included the last seven of the season. One consolation, perhaps, was the opportunity to play alongside his older brother Matthew, a fixture a five-eighth since 1991.
Johns’ and the Knights’ results took a positive direction no long after. They reached the finals for seven years in a row. They won the ARL premiership in 1997. Johns himself would win the Dally M Medal the following season, as well as the one after that. In 2001, Johns would score 279 points, the record for the club as of 2015. Not that everything was peaches and cream at all times. The club had the wooden spoon in 2005. Johns could only play in three matches in 2005, the worst since he did his three-game trial in 1993. He had injury issues in other seasons as well, beginning in 2002. That season, he had been stellar, not just for the Knights, either. He was appointed captain for New South Wales for interstate play and he held the same role for Australia. A career-threatening injury to his neck in 2003, along with a ligament problem in his left knee kept him out most of the 2004 season.
Johns supposedly received an offer for an obscene amount if he would switch to rugby union, something that ignited a major controversy in many factions, both in the leagues and the fans. He was also approached to take on the role as a coach in the Welsh Rugby Union, but it is doubtful than any incentive could persuade anyone with the slightest modicum of common sense to abandon Australia to live in Wales. Johns finally decided to stay with the Knights after the NRL added to his bank and provided the additional incentive of a commentary position with Channel 9 after he was done playing rugby.
Europe did finally persuade him to cross over to the dark side. In August of 2005, he signed a short-term contract with the Warrington Wolves to play out the 2005 European Super League season. He was able to secure that deal only on the provision of signing a new contract with the Knights, a contract making him captain of the Knights until the end of the 2008 season.
In the second round of the 2006 season, Johns passed Mick Cronin of Parramatta for the all-time league scoring record that had held fast since 1986. He set another mark later in the season in round 18 when he passed Jason Taylor’s 2107 in a game against the Eels, who at the time were being coached by Taylor.
Andrew Johns was hurt within minutes of the beginning of the 2007 season. He had planned to retire at the end of the season, but decisions of that nature are often beyond the control of a player, and Johns’ previous glory did not prevent time from catching up to him. When it was discovered that he had a bulging disc in his neck, the type of injury that could lead to permanent paralysis or death.
The list of awards he received is long indeed and includes three Dally M Medals, two Golden Boots, and a Clive Churchill Medal in 2001 for being man-of-the-match in the Grand Final, and numerous memberships in various Halls of Fame.