Johns touches down with commitment to Warrington

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The Independent Online

The man dubbed the world's greatest rugby league player was welcomed to the Halliwell Jones Stadium yesterday and promised that, as far as the Super League play-offs were concerned, he was here for the long haul.

The Grand Final for which the Wolves are aiming clashes with Australia's Tri-Nations Test against New Zealand on 15 October. The issue of which match Johns would play in had been shelved - until yesterday. "I won't be going home," the half-back said unequivocally.

Asked how he thought the Australian authorities would react to that decision, Johns replied: "I haven't told them yet. I think they sort of knew that. Warrington have gone out of their way to make me welcome. I want to pay them back and it wouldn't feel right not to be here for a Grand Final."

Johns said that he had the support of the Australian national coach, Wayne Bennett, for his decision to leave the country at the end of his season's commitments with the Newcastle Knights and play a minimum of three games with Warrington. "What would he rather me do?" he asked. "Come over here and stay match-hardened or have five weeks to myself over there where who knows what I'd be up to?"

At 31, Johns says he has long harboured an ambition to play in England, something that has happened thanks to a meeting between his representative and the Warrington director, Simon Moran, at the Lord's Test.

"My manager texted me and my initial thought was that, although it would be great, there was no way that Newcastle would release me," he said. "But in seven days the deal was done."

Part of that deal was that he would sign another two-year contract with the Knights, which means that the next few weeks will be the only chance to see the world's best play club rugby league in this country.

Warrington's ground will be sold out for the first time for his debut against Leeds on Saturday, when part of the fascination will be in seeing how quickly even a player of Johns' calibre can fit into an already successful team.

"I trained with them this morning and I was amazed how crisp and fluent the ball-work was," he said. "The main thing I've got to do is work out how to combine with Lee Briers and Nat Wood. It's a whole new challenge. I feel like I've got to prove myself again, but if teams try to target me they'll take their eye off players like Lee and Nat."

Johns said that he was feeling no after-effects from a kick on the shin during his last game for Newcastle.

He is receiving an estimated £10,000 a match for his short stint, but he insisted: "People who have seen me play know I don't play for the money. I'm on a pretty good whack at home and I could be sitting on a beach now, but I wanted to come here and play."

Warrington have attracted criticism for being the first to exploit the loophole that allows short-term signings from the other side of the world at the end of the season - although three other clubs have since followed their example.

The Wolves coach, Paul Cullen, said that he was unconcerned by calls for the rules to be changed.

"Rules are rules," Cullen said. "We were just smart enough to get on and do it and I defy anyone to tell me it's not right to have Andrew Johns in Super League."

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