Ready to play
By BRAD GREENSHIELDS
THE best rugby league player in the world is going to play in Coffs Harbour this weekend.
There has been a lot of speculation and doubt over the past month regarding Andrew Johns' fitness for Saturday night's NRL trial at the International Stadium but the star halfback says that his knee is ready to handle the rigours of top-flight football.
"Earlier in the week the coach gave me a ring and said 'How do you feel about playing a few minutes?'," Johns said after the Knights training session in Coffs Harbour yesterday.
"Probably last week I wasn't going to play at all, I just didn't want to push it.
"It was just the coach saying 'How about you have a game?' and ever since he said that the knee seems to feel a little bit better.
As this weekend's clash with Cronulla is Newcastle's last hit-out before the season proper begins on March 10, Johns says that there are other valid reasons for his inclusion in the team for Saturday night.
"It's important to get a little bit of the rust out before the start of the season," he added.
"We've got some new players so I've got to get used to playing with them."
Sporting an ice-pack on his knee after yesterday's session, Johns said that he expects to be on the paddock for about 30 minutes against the Sharks although that isn't certain just yet.
"I'm not over the line, I've got to see how it pulls up after the next couple of sessions but I'm pretty confident I'll play," he said.
Johns has promised that the football fans who go to the Stadium this weekend are going to see a willing contest.
"If you hold back in this game you're going to get hurt," 31-year-old Johns said.
"Every player is competitive and takes great pride in their own personal performance and this is the last game before the real thing so there'll be no holding back."
To further emphasise the point that Saturday night's clash is going to be a fair dinkum hit-out, Johns pointed out that there were still some positions in the team that haven't been finalised and this weekend was the last chance for some of those players to impress coach Michael Hagan before the season begins.
"Our forward pack this year, in the front row and back row there's probably 10 guys going for the starting five positions," the captain said.
"It's going to be interesting and they're all going to want to take their shot."
Although the main reason that Newcastle is in Coffs Harbour is business, it is with a wry grin that the biggest name in the game admits that he has spent his down time since arriving on Tuesday evening indulging in his greatest passion away from the game.
"All the boys have brought their surfboards, they've been out there this morning at the crack of dawn, it's beautiful out here," he said.
"Unfortunately my surfings a bit like my footy at the moment, a bit rusty. Thank god for leg ropes."
For the big crowd that's expected to watch this weekend, hopefully all of the rust disappears and the Johns' magic comes to the fore.