When a team that ended the 2005 season on
top of the premiership table is beaten 54-6 in round five of the 2006
season you are entitled to ask what has gone so desperately wrong. And when the team is the St George
Illawarra Dragons – the pre-season favourites this year – you might even
suggest the players need to be swabbed!
But the trouncing the Dragons were handed
on Saturday night has more to do with one player in the Opposition than the 17
hapless Dragons who shamed the great club.
The performance of the Newcastle Knight’s
captain Andrew Johns in leading the Knights to inflict the most humiliating
defeat the modern-day Dragons have ever suffered again raises the question,
just how good is he?
I have avoided this debate in the past because
comparisons between different players from different eras – under different
rules and playing conditions – are generally meaningless. But
the recent performances by Johns lead me to the belief he is the most
“dominating” player I have seen.
No player in the decades I have been
watching rugby league has so dominated games he has played in – at club, origin
and test levels – as Andrew Johns has. Without Johns on Saturday night, the
Knights would probably still have won, but not by almost 50 points, or anywhere
History will make the comparisons between
Johns and Wally Lewis, and the greats of earlier eras, such as Reg Gasnier. I
believe those comparisons should wait until his career ends. But what is incontestable is that no player
in our time has so dominated the matches he plays in. And that is a very worthy
accolade in itself.
Readers who have no interest whatsoever in
rugby league should try and watch an Andrew Johns game. Next Sunday afternoon,
when the Knights take on the premiership leaders, the Cowboys, in Newcastle ought to
be a must – as Greg Pritchard wrote in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald,
Johns has a great game nine out of ten weeks, and a very good game in the tenth!