Rugby league immortal Andrew Johns will make his return to the football field when he straps on the boots at the Auckland Nines next month.
While Brad Fittler will make his comeback for the Sydney Roosters, Johns won't be joining his beloved Newcastle Knights. The former Australian halfback will be the headline act in a charity touch football game between the Australian media and New Zealand media to be played in front of more than 40,000 fans at Eden Park.
The match, which will pit Johns against former Kiwis counterpart Stacey Jones, will be played between the semi-final and final on Sunday, February 16 - and feature several big-name former players now involved in the media.
Nines organisers have locked in the likes of Brett Finch, Monty Betham and Richie Barnett, while Gorden Tallis, Danny Buderus, Wendell Sailor, Ryan Girdler and Nathan Fien have all expressed an interest in playing in the match.
All Blacks breakaway Liam Messam, who lost to Paul Gallen in a Fight For Life charity fight in December, is also in negotiations to represent the Kiwi team.
Fittler, who is expected to have his contract to play with the Roosters at the tournament rubber-stamped by the NRL on Monday, had originally committed to playing for the Australian media team before pledging his allegiance to the tricolours. ''Freddy came to me a couple of weeks ago about playing touch footy for the media team and I told him I would love to go,'' Johns said. ''So we organised to go over there early to do some surfing for a few days at Raglan. Then I read he's going to play in the actual Nines. Some people are mocking it but with the ball in his hand I think he'll surprise some people.
''I think he'll do some great things with the ball in his hand but when he's on the other side and trying to make some tackles with effort upon effort, that might get him. But it's a great thing for the game to have him playing.''
The Australian media team will also comprise journalists and reporters from the major media organisations. But Johns will be the player most at Eden Park will look forward to seeing. ''I'll be doing plenty of passing and hopefully I won't do much running,'' Johns said. ''I never get the itch to play [rugby league] again. I was lucky enough to have a long period of time in the game, but I never get the itch. This is something different and should be very exciting.''
The rules of the match are yet to be confirmed but two fans from Australia and New Zealand will be given the opportunity to play alongside the greats of the game.
A radio competition will be run in both countries to award a fan a spot in a team, while a position will also be auctioned off to the highest bidder to raise money for charity.
- Sydney Morning Herald
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