NRL: Jack Johns uses trial against Goannas at Cessnock to help take 'new step' at Newcastle Knights

SET: Jack Johns training with the Knights on Wednesday. Picture: Jonathan Carroll
SET: Jack Johns training with the Knights on Wednesday. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

It's Johns. It's Cessnock. It's the Knights.

Some of the region's most famed rugby league elements combine in a pre-season event less than three weeks out from round one.

Jack Johns will don Newcastle's red and blue uniform, worn by both his father Matthew and uncle Andrew, as he continues taking a "new step" towards an NRL return in 2021.

The 23-year-old, who signed a development deal in November after debuting with the Rabbitohs last season, will start at lock when the Knights play a trial against local premiers the Goannas at Cessnock Sportsground on Saturday.

His family, including grandparents Gary and Gayle who still live in Cessnock, have a rich history at the Coalfields club despite not playing for the Goannas himself.

Now, six months after his last competitive game, the next generation of Johns has an opportunity to state his case in familiar surrounds as he aims to achieve a lifelong goal of his own at the Knights.

"It's a great feeling to be honest," Johns said.

"I wasn't sure if I'd come back here [the Knights]. I've always supported the club my whole life and I've always wanted to play first grade here, it's been a goal of mine since I was a kid.

"I really enjoyed my time at Souths, but it feels like it's a new step here.

"I've really enjoyed this pre-season so far but now it's time to transfer it onto the field."

Johns, who came through the Knights' junior ranks followed by under 20s, feels like he's ready to crack the top squad more than two decades after halves pairing Matthew and Andrew steered them to a maiden title in 1997.

"I'm definitely trying to crack the side at some stage this year," he said.

"I definitely want to play first grade. I feel like I can do it and I feel like I can offer the side something."

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Johns made two NRL appearances for South Sydney last year and has relished his move from playmaker to the forwards in recent seasons.

"I feel like I've enjoyed my footy a lot going there," he said.

"It lets me take a breath. When you're in the halves everything's a bit full on for 80 minutes straight whereas in the back-row you get to more focus on yourself rather than worrying about other players on the field which is good for me."

Johns recalled his last visit to the venue, playing Newcastle Rugby League for Western Suburbs against Cessnock in 2018.

"I ran out there a couple of years ago for Wests and they came out swinging a fair few of the boys coming to rip my head off so I'm expecting that again this weekend," he said.

"It'll be good. Nan and Pop will be there, they've lived there pretty much their whole lives so they'll be very excited to come out and watch."

Knights teammates Brodie Jones, Brayden Musgrove and Harvey Neville all have links to Cessnock as well.

Newcastle have named a 31-man squad.

Looking at the end of the year, Johns hasn't ruled out another World Cup campaign with Italy but potentially alongside younger brother Cooper.

Meanwhile, Knights officials are continuing to hold talks with the Storm in regards to next weekend's trial scheduled for Melbourne after Victoria's most recent COVID-19 lockdown ended on Wednesday.

SQUAD: Mackenzie Baker, Jacob Kiraz, Brayden Musgrove, Dylan Lucas, Dom Young, Hayden Loughrey, Kobe Davis, Pasami Saulo, Mitch Black, Garrett Smith, Jaron Purcell, Brodie Jones, Jack Johns, Luke Huth, Christian Ma'anaima, Mat Croker, John Tolofea, Zac Hosking, Dan Ticehurst, Blake Campbell, Harvey Neville, Matt Soper-Lawler, Ben Talty, Liam Wilkinson, Harry Croker, Harry van Dartel, Sione Tuitupou-Kutu, Henry Penn, Jesse Cronin, Tyler Coburn, Blake Lenehan.

This story Johns takes 'new step' for lifelong goal at Knights first appeared on Newcastle Herald.