Inside the training mishap that ended Joey’s career

It was a training mishap.

An innocuous knock which called time for the GOAT.

It was 2007. A year of great optimism for the Newcastle Knights but it started in horrible fashion.

Andrew Johns was knocked out from a swinging Sonny Bill Williams arm in the season opener.

He played all of four minutes in that game against Canterbury.

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He missed the next game but returned in Round 3 against Canberra. They pumped the Knights but Johns was back.

Preparing for his home ground return, the halfback was going through his paces at training when his world was turned upside down.

“Joey is trying to make his return after a bit of layoff, and we were doing a training drill. We were doing a simple warm-up pass,” Woolnough told the Our Town Our Team podcast.

“For some reason, Joey passed the ball and it didn’t go to hand and Abes (Daniel Abraham) and I actually ran through the pads and connected with Joey.

“Next minute, Joey’s on all haunches clutching at his neck and that was it. Retired.

“At one point, Abes and I were the most hated people in Newcastle because we retired Joey on the training pitch.”

Johns had a bulging disc in his neck and was forced into retirement.

It was a tough time for the rugby league community, let alone the Knights faithful.

While it was a trivial knock, you must feel for both Abraham and Woolnough.

With so much coverage around the incident, you can imagine the stress attached.

But did Woolnough ever feel like he copped any of the blame?

“there were some comments going around but fortunately it was before social media,” he said.

“(The incident) was actually caught on NBN news.

“I remember it clearly because I reviewed it a couple of times. We collided with Joe. He goes down on his knees and clutches at his neck but Abes and I are then seen in the next part of the clip looking down at him pretty much saying; ‘Oh, we’ve seen this before. Get up, come on, stop carrying on’.

“The death threats and angst towards Abes and I weren’t that extreme but we certainly felt a little bit of pressure around us, that’s for sure.”

Joking about the matter now, he kids the training incident was payback for a spray Johns gave Woolnough and fellow forward Josh Perry during an evening on the drink.

“I remember Josh and myself were on the end of a spray and it wasn’t on the footy field or training field, it was at a pub after one of the games,” he said.

“We weren’t performing and we were embarrassing him and we’d put up with it for a couple of hours. But it was getting a little too much and Josh and I turned around and said; ‘mate, if you say it again, we’re taking you outside’.

“But I got my retribution.”

Having started his NRL career in 2002, the Taree native is a product of the junior system.

His final year at the Club was 2007.

He wasn’t the only one.

It was a year of great change for the Club under Brian Smith.

“Thinking back on 2007, it was quite a bit of a year really,” he said.

“It was a continuation of one thing after another. If it wasn’t Joey retiring, it was Kirk Reynoldson, it was Danny Buderus … one thing after another.”

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