Not re-signing Matty almost saw Joey join the Broncos

It was the end of 2000 season and both Johns brothers were off-contract.

On big money and with the Super League war over, the Newcastle Knights had to make a call.

As history states, Matthew would leave at the end of that season.

Andrew stayed on and would captain the team to a premiership victory but they almost lost him.

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Speaking to the Our Town Our Team podcast, former coach Michael Hagan reflects on his rookie year at the helm of the Knights and lifts the lid on a time where they almost lost the eighth immortal to Brisbane.

“They were both on big numbers back then,” Hagan said of the Johns brothers.

“In the end, it was a commercial decision. You can’t fit everyone in the cap. It was one of those traumatic decisions which had to be made.

“There was a lot of media interest and the fans were understandably emotionally involved.

“I had Andrew Johns threatening to go to Brisbane in 2000 before he had agreed to stay.

“He wasn’t happy with how Matthew had been treated in that process.

“There was a bit going on before we got to the line in 2001 to start coaching.”

Before Hagan even picked up the clipboard, getting his roster sorted was his top priority.

Having re-signed the likes of Steve Simpson and Mark Hughes, Johns was the key piece to the puzzle.

Needing to make a call on whether to keep Matthew or Andrew, Hagan said that in an ideal world, the duo would’ve remained but when the club was unable to offer the pair matching deals, they had to decide.

“When it was agreed that Matthew couldn’t be offered the same level of contract that he was on, which was an ARL deal, (their manger) John (Fordham) said; ‘well if you’re not prepared to offer the same dollars, don’t make an offer at all’,” Hagan said.

“Which the Knights said, ‘well we can’t offer you that, so we won’t make an offer’. And then it was like, ‘well you had the audacity to not offer him a contract’.

“There was a bit of misinformation on both sides.”

In a bid to reach a deal, Hagan invited Johns to break bread.

Talks were held over a meal in town and concluded with the superstar agreeing to stay.

“I had lunch with him around that time and we talked a bit about about what the plan was for the club and about him being maybe captain,” Hagan recalled.

“Talking about some of these good young players that he’d been part of that development plan with them, and that he’d have a really good influence on the group. So, I think he was pretty keen to stay and to be part of that.”

Always the joker, Johns had an unusual request following the end of the meeting.

“After he had lunch with me, he said; ‘Hages I’m going to stay, but when you go back to the office I want you to tell them that I’m not sure if I might stay or go’,” he said.

“I did take a bit of enjoyment when I got back from lunch. They (the Knights staff) were all keen to find out what the luncheon was like and what he was going to do. I said, ‘I’m not really quite sure’, and they were all a bit rattled.

“He agreed to stay the next day.”

It was not only a huge moment for the Club but for Hagan.

The deal marked the beginning of a journey that would see the halfback lead the Knights to their second premiership.