Wigan to loose key Australian as Johns goes home

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The Independent Online

Wigan have confirmed that their Australian stand-off, Matthew Johns, will be leaving at the end of this season for compassionate reasons.

Johns' wife has her mother and sister both ill in Australia and he requested his release from the remaining year of his contract. He has an offer of a two-year deal with Cronulla which he will now take up.

"I promised Matthew that, if family health problems required him to return to Australia, then I would not stand in his way," said the Wigan chairman, Maurice Lindsay. "We pride ourselves on being a family club."

Johns has pledged to do his best to go out on a high. "We have got a very good chance of winning the title and I will be doing everything I can to help achieve this," he said.

Wigan will now step up their search for a quality stand-off to replace Johns, which will probably mean looking overseas. They have been linked with Ben Walker, the former Brisbane and London player, who could be left stranded if the Northern Eagles' financial problems force them out of Australia's National Rugby League, but Lindsay has denied any approach for him.

A more intriguing possibility is that the Australian captain, Brad Fittler, who is retiring from representative rugby after this autumn's Kangaroo tour, might be tempted to try his hand in Britain. He remains under contract at the Sydney Roosters, but could be sufficiently unsettled to want a change of scene – in which case Leeds would be Wigan's obvious rivals for his services.

Wigan could also lose Steve Renouf back to the Australian game when his two-year contract is up at the end of this season. Renouf has hinted at an unfulfilled ambition to play in Sydney, while his Wigan team-mate, Brett Dallas, would be a target for North Sydney if they win back their place in the NRL.

The Rugby League's board of directors will today discuss whether the St Helens coach, Ian Millward, has a case to answer over his claims that two rival players could face legal action.

Leeds are to play their home match against Bradford on Saturday 11 August as a double-header with the Leeds Tykes' rugby union game against Llanelli.

Peter Roe has agreed to stay as coach of Featherstone for another year.

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