Hagan at a loss without Johns - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Hagan at a loss without Johns

By Steve Jancetic 17/08/2006 04:38:13 PM Comments (0)

Newcastle coach Michael Hagan has taken a novel approach trying to jag a win without star halfback Andrew Johns - he's given up.

"I don't know mate, I've got no idea," was Hagan's response when asked how the Knights will cope without Johns.

"I don't know what we're going to do without him."

The tongue-in-cheek remark reflects how sick both Hagan and other members of the Knights squad are of answering the eternal question - can the Knights win without their inspirational leader?

Johns will miss the Knights' last two matches of the regular season after having his contrary conduct charge for swearing at touch judge Matt Cecchin downgraded at the NRL judiciary.

Newcastle's struggles without Johns are well documented. Last year when Johns missed most of the season with injury, the Knights collected the wooden spoon.

There is of course an easy way to end the same relentless line of questioning - by leaving Townsville with the two competition points on Saturday night.

Given North Queensland are without key playmaker Johnathan Thurston, skipper Travis Norton, Test backrower Luke O'Donnell and first choice centres Ty Williams and Paul Bowman, the Knights will never get a better chance to get one over last year's grand finalists, even without Johns.

Teenage halfback Jarrod Mullen and five-eighth Kurt Gidley will take on most of the playmaking responsibility in Johns' absence, with Hagan confident both are ready to step out of the shadow of their more illustrious teammate.

"We're in a pretty good position with the fact that Jarrod has played some first grade and played very well, so has Kurt and Danny Buderus and Milton Thaiday's getting better," Hagan said.

"Our forward pack is going forward and defending well and that should make Jarrod and Kurt's job a little bit easier. You can only play as well as your forwards allow you to play sometimes.

"Our preparation hasn't changed too much from what we would normally do and I guess the game being in Townsville it gives a chance to escape a bit of that media scrutiny.

"It's probably worked out pretty well for us I think to head out of town."

Precariously placed in sixth place following last week's loss to Manly, the Knights probably need to win only one of their remaining two matches before a last round bye to avoid finishing in seventh or eighth spot while wins in both matches would put them in the running for a top four spot.

Several teams are scrambling to avoid seventh or eighth place, which would result with a daunting match-up against either Melbourne or the Bulldogs in the opening week of the finals.

The Knights' remaining two games are against teams who are virtually out of the running for the top eight, with a home clash against Penrith to follow the trip to Townsville.

Despite the need for competition points, Hagan believes his squad will gain a massive psychological lift by winning without Johns.

"That's our focus and that's what we're intent on doing," Hagan said.

"Whether we're good enough to do that or not is a different story."

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