MATTY Johns has unloaded on the NRL for a degrading marketing gimmick ahead of Sunday’s match between Wests Tigers and Newcastle Knights.
Rugby league’s governing body was forced to apologise after sending emails to members of both clubs encouraging them to attend the game at McDonald Jones Stadium to “soak up the battle for the spoon”.
The Tigers are last on the ladder with three wins from 15 games in a horror 2017 that has seen coach Jason Taylor sacked, star centre Tim Simona banned and several big name stars like Mitchell Moses, James Tedesco and Aaron Woods decide to jump ship either this year or next.
The Knights have the most inexperienced roster in the league and have won just twice from 14 attempts, putting them one spot above the Tigers on points differential.
If the season was to end this weekend, the two teams would be fighting it out for the wooden spoon. But it’s only Round 17 and the regular season finishes after 26 rounds.
The NRL contacted both clubs to apologise for the gimmick gone wrong.
“Clearly both clubs are working hard to climb the ladder in the coming weeks so the reference to the spoon was not appropriate,’’ an NRL spokesman said, per The Daily Telegraph.
“It was an error of judgment and we have now put in place additional checks to prevent it happening again.’’
Newcastle legend Matthew Johns was furious with the complete lack of respect shown to his former team and the joint venture club. Speaking on the Triple M Grill Team on Friday he lashed the “disgraceful” PR stunt and co-host Emma Freedman labelled it a “cheap shot”.
“For the governing body it’s disgraceful,” Johns said. “There are 10 rounds left in this competition and this is the NRL who are saying to fans of the Tigers and the Knights, ‘Get out there and support your team because they’re going so poorly,’ so it’s a joke of who can pick up the wooden spoon.
“Ten rounds left in the competition and look, I’m going to the game on Sunday, I’m going to go up there and support my side because they’re having a tough year but you know what I like? We’ve got a young team and they’re busting their backsides off, they’re really trying their guts out so when I read that you just go, ‘Really?’
“At the moment a lot of people are taking shots at the NRL and they’re saying the NRL has lost touch with the game, they’ve lost touch with the fans, they’ve got no idea. Well I tell you what, they’ve just confirmed it.
“I just think they’ve got no idea.
“To ‘soak up’ the wooden spoon 10 rounds out from the finals? I tell you what NRL, if no one turns up for the game, you’re to blame.”
Grill Team co-host Gus Worland said even if the email was sent out a month before the end of the season it would still be “disrespectful”, and NSW legend Mark Geyer said he’d be “shattered” if he was a player for the Tigers or Knights and saw that treatment.
“I’d be shattered, I’d be really disappointed,” Geyer said.
“I’ve been busting my bum each week and yes, the results aren’t there and everyone goes through hardships through their rugby league seasons but to be saying to fans get there to see who gets the wooden spoon … the wooden spoon is far from wrapped up.”
The Knights have held the wood over the Tigers in the recent past having won five of their past seven encounters.
Newcastle is showing signs of improvements having pushed finals contenders Manly and St George Illawarra to within four points over the last fortnight.
“They’re a pretty dangerous team,” fullback Nathan Ross said of the Tigers.
“If you want to go out there and play touch football with them, they’ve added (Tui) Lolohea to their team, they’ve got Luke Brooks who’s shown he’s a quality player, Aaron Woods is a State of Origin player, James Tedesco, Dave Nofoaluma is probably one of the best play one, play two ball runners in the game.
“So they’ve got all the strike power there. It’s also the strongest team they’ve fielded in the last month.”
The Knights are set to receive a boost with Jamie Buhrer to return from a long-term foot injury while premiership-winner and ex-NSW halfback Trent Hodkinson is rumoured to be on the cusp of returning to first grade after spending the last seven matches in NSW Cup.
They lacked cooler heads as the Dragons overturned a 28-10 halftime deficit to defeat them 32-28 on Sunday and Buhrer will add some much-needed experience.
“We need to hold onto possession and slow the ruck down to speed we want to play at,” Ross said.
“When we hold the ball we’ve shown we can be dangerous.”