The news that Andrew Johns has played his
last State of Origin rugby league game will be greeted with mixed feelings in the rugby
league world.

The loss of the game’s premier
player could be expected to impact on gates, television ratings and so on.
Origin in recent years has been dominated by the Blues, and was dominated last year by
Andrew Johns.

If the Blues domination continues, Origin will lose one of its
standout advantages – since the concept started 25 years ago the contest has
been remarkably even, with the Maroons winning 36, the Blues 37, with two
draws.

A fit Andrew Johns might have been as
dominant this year as he was last year. He missed game one – and the Maroons
narrowly won. But he was back for games two and three and the Blues dominated.

His departure will be greeted with a sigh
of relief in Queensland, where the Maroons are undergoing a rebuilding phase under the
guidance of Mal Meninga. It will take some of the unnecessary pressure off the
Maroons captain, Darren Lockyer, who seems to be running into form at about the
right time.

And it certainly opens a window of opportunity
for the Maroons to end the three-year domination of Origin by the
Blues. This in turn will help ensure that Origin remains the game’s
number one showcase.

It’s always sad when an outstanding player
hangs up his representative boots. In recent years, administrators have taken a
more sensible approach to the retirement from rep football of long serving
players. Others have taken advantage of that. Andrew
Johns cannot be criticised for doing so.

The news will be a real boost for the
Newcastle Knights. Without the demands of Origin, Johns will have a better
chance of seeing out the 2006 season free from major injury.

While Johns is likely to play just one more
representative match – the Kangaroos v Kiwis test match in May – this year he
will be able to focus totally on winning the premiership for the Knights.

Peter Fray

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