Johns still trying to help NSW from afar

Scott Bailey
·2-min read

Nathan Cleary hopes he can still have a word with Andrew Johns before kick off in Wednesday night's State of Origin series opener in Adelaide.

Johns has been the most notable absentee from NSW camp this series, adamant all year he did not want to be consigned to the NRL's strict COVID-19 bubble.

The rugby league immortal has been an on-and-off regular in Blues camp for the best part of a decade, most notably in the Brad Fittler-era of success since 2018.

But while he was a regular on the balcony watching Parramatta training from outside the bubble this year, Johns has not been sighted at Wyong.

His involvement is, however, still there albeit limited.

He has tried several times to speak with Cleary after last week's grand-final loss to Melbourne, as they try to align their diaries for a chat.

"We've been paying a bit of phone tag, I haven't been able to catch him yet," Cleary said.

"He's always keen for a chat, we have spoken through the year and things like that.

"I'm always happy to keep in touch with him."

But NSW aren't short on coaching staff with winning Origin experience.

Fittler is the most capped Blue of all time and was part of seven series wins himself, including three in the halves.

Greg Alexander is one of Cleary's long-time mentors at Penrith and is also in camp as Fittler's advisor.

Danny Buderus and Craig Fitzgibbon are also still there as Fittler's assistants, having played their part in the Blues' last three-peat between 2003 and 2005.

Former teammate Mark O'Meley is also in the camp this year as the COVID cop, ensuring everything meets the NRL's requirements for bubble life.

"I'm lucky if you look at the coaching staff here," Cleary said.

"It's Bedsy, Craig Fitzgibbon, Freddy and Brandy, they have all played Origin and a lot of it.

"So you can always bounce ideas off them. And even some of the players, there are a lot of people to bounce ideas off."

In contrast, Queensland's expertise have been less affected by bubble life.

The adjusted schedule due to the pandemic has allowed Wayne Bennett to add Mal Meninga to his coaching staff with a release from Kangaroos duties.

Neil Henry is another new face after being brought back into the fold this series, while Alfie Langer is still there running the waters.

Last year's coach Kevin Walters was still around to help players before they entered the bubble, while he has also watched on from afar at some sessions at Robina.

Billy Slater and Johnathan Thurston are, however, missing from last year's camp.