Tribute to Andrew “Joey” Johns

This afternoon I once again gloat about the achievements of people from the Cessnock electorate and congratulate Andrew “Joey” Johns on his induction into the Rugby League Immortals and into the Sports Australia Hall of Fame. It is entirely appropriate that I stand here today wearing a blue suit, a blue and white striped shirt and a red tie—colours of the mighty, mighty Knights. Andrew Johns played 249 times for the Newcastle Knights, 23 times for New South Wales and 24 times for Australia. He won the Dally M Medal three times, the Clive Churchill Medal once and the Provan-Summons Medal five times. When he retired in 2007 he was at the time the greatest point-scorer in first grade history, and a year later he was selected as half-back in the Australian Rugby League team of the century.

Anyone who remembers game two of the 2005 State of Origin series will remember Andrew Johns’ ability to drag fans from their seats. Coming back after a broken jaw and brought into the side as a late replacement, Johns put on a command performance to carve the Queenslanders apart. He repeated the dose a month later and New South Wales won the series 2:1. That was Johns’ last Origin game, and it is worth pointing out that our great State has not tasted Origin victory since. The solution after seven straight series defeats seems simple: start picking some players from the coalfields again. The wonderful thing about sport is that a person’s ability to achieve depends far more on their skill and capacity for work than on their postcode. Throughout all the undulations in Andrew Johns’ story, I believe that is the most important message.

The fact that Andrew Johns, who grew up in a working-class family in a small country town, was able to reach the absolute peak of his field of endeavour shows that anyone in this country can do anything. It is not just Andrew Johns and it is not just sport. Currently we have dozens of young people in the Cessnock electorate who themselves could one day take a place on the global stage. We need to teach our young people to have ambition. When we stifle ambition in our youth we stifle our society. Far from being a sign of detachment from reality, ambition is what drives people to be great. Every young person in New South Wales should believe that, whatever field they choose—be it sport, medicine, science, the arts or politics—they can be the very best.

Andrew Johns’ story is one of the many that proves it, and I am sure the House joins me in congratulating him. As an aside, I will relate a small story about Andrew. I first became aware of Andrew when I was playing in the under-11s Aberdare Warriors and Andrew was playing for the under-7s St Patrick’s team. He was untouchable on the footy field at that young age—kids just could not get their hands on him and he carved them up. The Saturday Rugby League fixture for a local country town is obviously the highlight of the week and thousands of people would flock to watch the Cessnock Goannas play against whoever the foes were. Obviously all of the foes were dirty, cheating scoundrels and Cessnock was the honest, hard-toiling, worthy team.

But during those games the kids would leave the ground. We would go across the road and down a little bit to where the local town hall was. Behind the town hall was a perfectly beautifully manicured green lawn and it was always a little bit damp and soft, so it was ideal. Who cared about the Goannas when we were playing State of Origin or Test Match football down the road behind the town hall? I was 11—most of the guys who were down there were 10 or 11—and this young seven-year-old named Andrew Johns would turn up to show his wares. Everyone wanted to knock his head off but no-one could get anywhere near him. At that young age this kid had talent that was just untouchable. He was more than willing—and full of self-confidence and cheek—to pit himself against boys just a little bit bigger and a little bit older, and he always won. Andrew “Joey” Johns—Rugby League Immortal—we salute you.