Knights in disarray over Johns grounding - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Knights in disarray over Johns grounding

By David Beniuk 14/08/2006 07:10:26 PM Comments (0)

Newcastle's premiership campaign is in strife with captain Andrew Johns set to miss at least the first week of the NRL finals.

Johns was charged Monday by the NRL's match review committee with contrary conduct for allegedly swearing at a touch judge during Friday's loss to Manly.

An early guilty plea to the higher than expected grade three charge would result in Johns missing three matches and, with the Knights having the bye in round 26, that would take his suspension into week one of the finals series beginning on September 8.

If the champion halfback unsuccessfully defends the charge before the judiciary he will miss a fourth match.

Johns has admitted using expletives but denies they were directed at touch judge Matt Cechin.

The sixth-placed Knights, who have a woeful playing record without their skipper, are one of five teams on 26 premiership points with only the top two sides guaranteed a second week in the finals.

Johns has already attracted controversy this season, snubbing a presentation at Parramatta when he broke the premiership's all-time point-scoring record and copping a public reprimand from NRL boss David Gallop after being caught swearing by a television microphone in the round 19 match against Melbourne.

Bookmakers across the country closed down markets as soon as news of Johns' charge was announced with the Knights' premiership odds winding out by as much as $6.

"History shows Newcastle can't win finals with Johns," Sportingbet spokesman Bill Richmond said.

Johns' manager John Fordham said the Newcastle captain would be seeking legal advice on his options.

"Legal advice will also be sought to examine possible grounds for appeal," Fordham said in a statement.

"Until such time all information had been considered it would be inappropriate for Andrew Johns to make any response."

The Knights confirmed they had requested a copy of the video footage viewed by the match review committee and said they were also seeking legal advice.

"The Newcastle Knights have requested a copy of the footage from the NRL's match review committee and have until midday tomorrow to decide if any further action will be taken," a Knights statement said.

But the club may find itself as shocked as match review committee chairman Greg McCallum who, when it was suggested that some might find the grade three charge harsh, responded: "Probably most people haven't seen the video."

McCallum said Johns' column in the Sunday Telegraph, in which he said he would not apologise for the incident, was not considered as evidence.

He said the game's image had been considered by the committee, which graded Johns' charge lower than those handed out to Melbourne's Scott Hill and Parramatta's Jeremy Smith for manhandling referees earlier this season.

"I think that the response to that's reflected in the charge, the fact that a player's been charged at that level I think it's reasonable to suggest that that's been taken into account," McCallum said.

Johns' charge arose out of a 79th minute incident during Friday's 16-14 loss in which he is alleged to have called Cechin a "f...ing c..t".

Johns allegedly made the comment after Manly centre Steve Matai was ruled not to have played at a ball he knocked forward, meaning the Knights were denied possession close to the Sea Eagles' line.

In a further twist, the NRL's referees' review report on Monday declared referee Paul Simpkins' decision on the incident "incorrect" but said match officials' views of it had been obscured.

And, in a further blow to the Knights, the NRL fined the club $5,000 for comments made by coach Michael Hagan supporting Johns over the incident.

Asked about the allegation at the post-match press conference, Hagan said: "I think he'd be entitled to swear at him, wouldn't you?"

The NRL said the fine was issued "on the basis that the coach of a team had publicly endorsed the principle that players are entitled to abuse referees".

NRL chief executive David Gallop said in a statement: "It is a fundamental principle of sport that the referee's decision is to be respected.

"Passion and emotion are parts of our game but they are not an excuse for every action on or off the field.

"Like all sports we face a real challenge in recruiting enough referees at junior level even at a time when the number of kids playing the game is increasing."

Hagan refused to comment on the fine or on Johns' charge.

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