Johns tips a boilover as tension runs high
Former State of Origin greats Darren Lockyer, left, and Andrew Johns catch up in Sydney yesterday ahead of Origin II.
Thanks to an ex-Queensland hooker by the name of Jamie Goddard, Andrew Johns preferred to take State of Origin opposition apart with football not fists during the remainder of his great career. It was pacifism learnt the hard way.
Johns, however, admits he could always sense in the days preceding when an Origin match might ignite, and he has little doubt the tense lead-up to tonight's showdown at ANZ Stadium will have inevitable consequences.
''It's going to be physical. I think without doubt it's going to boil over,'' the former champion halfback said. ''There is no love lost between the two teams. They have to win - it doesn't matter how they win - NSW have to win. It's going to be a really interesting first 10, 15 minutes.
''Who knows what is going to happen to make it boil over? But I think without doubt it's going to boil over at some stage.''
There is the smell of it in the air, Johns argues, as a result of the public exchange of words between rival coaches Ricky Stuart and Mal Meninga over the past week. He says players take notice of such talk and predicts a repeat of the all-in brawl that marked Origin I in Melbourne - except for it to occur even earlier in front of a crowd of 84,000 tonight.
''I've been really surprised actually, how much banter there has been between the two sides,'' Johns said. ''Normally it gets shut down and not much is said - you don't want to give the opposition any ammo. But it's been pistols at 10 paces this year. It's going to make for an explosive game.''
Johns was infamously knocked to the ground by the otherwise anonymous Goddard during the third game in 1997, and required 27 stitches, after responding to one of coach Tommy Raudonikis's ''cattledog'' battle cries.
''The beauty if you play halfback is you can stand back and watch on. I learnt my lesson in the cattledog years,'' he said.
''I used to just buy the tickets and sit in the front row and watch what goes on.''
The first-half incident in Melbourne, which led to the sin-binning of Michael Jennings, was sparked by the ball being thrown at the head of NSW lock Greg Bird by Queensland front-rower Matt Scott. The prop was reacting to being pushed by Bird after a tackle.
The Blues surrendered their early grip on the game at Etihad Stadium - being a man down for 10 minutes didn't help - and Johns says whatever transpires, Stuart's side cannot afford to give away hard-earned momentum with haymakers.
''I don't care if they lose the fight and they win the game so I'd like to think that if it does boil over they're more concentrated on the footy,'' he said.
Darren Lockyer, in Sydney yesterday to launch the ARL Commission's new Backyard League program with Johns, agrees with his former interstate rival.
''I don't think there will be a deliberate tactic to start a cattledog,'' Lockyer said. ''But I think any high shot this time, there is that much intensity in the build-up that there is a good chance that emotions are going to flow over early in the game.
''If [the NSW] players weren't already ready for a battle then they now know that they are because Ricky has probably fired up the Queensland boys a bit. I haven't seen a build-up to an Origin like this for a long time.''