Rugby league Immortal Andrew Johns has revealed the “scary” toll of his 14-year career playing professional rugby league.
On Wide World of Sports’ Immortal Behaviour, Johns was playfully asked what he would do if he went back to school, amid reports that Roosters star Luke Keary has a clause in his contract that gives him an allowance to complete a business degree.
“We all know I struggle to concentrate, I struggle to sit still, so it’d have to be some sort of movement, maybe a personal training course,” Johns said.
“Although I love reading books, so maybe literature, philosophy, counselling?” the league legend joked, before non-nonchalantly opening up about the long-term physical impact of his storied NRL career.
“No, I would have been a tradie for sure.
“With these monkey, inbred hands – have a look at them.”
Johns held up his hands and explained to host Danika Mason that the way his fingers awkwardly sit is due to an injury that ultimately ended his playing career.
“That’s from my neck, when I hurt my neck,” he said, referring to a bulging disc injury from 2003, which forced him to retire in 2007.
The injury had threatened to end his career much earlier, leaving Johns in a neck brace and sidelined for six weeks, but he played another four years in the NRL before hanging up his boots on medical advice.
Now 17 years on, the 46-year-old said the neck injury led to numbing of his ulna nerve, which affects the pinkie and ring finger.
“All of this nerve down here went numb, so all that hand there, I still can’t feel it,” Johns said.
“So if someone touches it?” Mason questioned, before testing Johns’ finger feeling.
“Yeah, I can’t feel it,” Johns said.
“That’s a bit scary,” Mason replied.
“Great game, rugby league,” Johns said with a wry smile.
“Oh well. I could be down a coal mine right now. Not complaining.”
Johns retired in 2007 and the latter part of his career was constantly plagued by injuries, like that serious neck issue in 2003.
The next season he tore his ACL, he broke his jaw in 2005 and in his final season in 2007 he suffered a concussion from a Sonny Bill Williams tackle before he aggravated his bulging disc neck injury in another game and eventually made his retirement announcement because he was “at serious risk of a catastrophic spinal injury” if he played on.
“I think the time’s right,” Johns said in April 2007.
“They [Johns’ Knights teammates] were sort of relieved I think, after a couple of injuries this year.
“It was really difficult to tell my family.
“I knew that the end would be coming soon. I knew it my heart that this year would be my last year.
“I would have loved to finish with a premiership. This could’ve happened when I was 19. I’ve achieved so much in the game, I’ve had some great memories and the main thing – some great friendships.
“I knew in my heart this year would be my last year but it’s just unfortunate it’s stopped five months before the end of the season.
“I hate to think what a full-blown hit on the field could have done.”