Teenage Newcastle halfback Jesse Southwell has revealed the role that league Immortal and club great Andrew Johns played in giving her the confidence to guide the Knights to an historic NRLW premiership.
Southwell, 17, needed an exemption to be able to play in the NRLW this season but no one was questioning her age after she led Newcastle to a 32-12 defeat of Parramatta before a record 42,000 crowd at Accor Stadium in Sunday’s grand final.
Amid celebrations that mirrored those of Newcastle’s inaugural premiership winning team in 1997, Southwell thanked Johns for his advice and support, which extended to a visit to the Knights’ dressing room before kick-off.
Southwell magic in Grand Final
“Joey has been helping me throughout the whole competition,” Southwell said.
“He’s been sending me messages and stuff like that, and he’s been giving me heaps of tips on what to do and how to deal with certain situations like kicking early and turning the forwards around. I can’t credit him enough.
“Joey came into the sheds just before the game and helped us out with a few things. It’s pretty cool. My dad watched Joey while we were kids. Seeing someone like that come in and talk to me is very, very cool.”
Johns, who was the halfback in Newcastle’s only previous premiership winning teams in 1997 and 2001, congratulated the players on the field as they waited to receive their premiership rings.
From the sheds: Millie Boyle
He wasn’t the only Knights great to led support to the club’s NRLW team as they climbed from last place in the postponed 2021 competition played earlier this year to premiership glory under coach Ronald Griffiths.
“I grew up in Newcastle and I remember lining the streets in 1997 when they came back in, so for me it is extremely special,” Griffiths said.
“To be able to bring those players in of that ilk, and the guys who laid the foundation, like Tony Butterfield, to talk about what it means to be a Newcastle Knight, but then above all else for our players to adopt that … I think that is the special message.
“From [player] one through to 27, the staff all knew it was the ‘Newcastle Way’ or nothing else and there were so many team-first actions.”
Knights captain Millie Boyle said the players had been wanted to emulate the feats of the 1997 and 2001 teams.
“We did a lot on visualisation and looking at the Paul Harragons and the Kurt Gidleys, and everyone in between, and what that meant to them. That was just about being the player everyone wants to play alongside,” Boyle said.