NEWS Aging like a fine wine: Golden oldies in the mix for special piece of history

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The game has changed markedly since Adam Reynolds and Shaun Johnson first crossed paths as 21-year-old playmaking prodigies, but their ability to win games and influence careers has been a constant for more than a decade.

Just 23 games into his NRL journey, Johnson had already been to a grand final with the Warriors in 2011, lighting up the big stage with his outrageous side step and flair for the freakish.

Across the Tasman, Reynolds was just starting to find his feet under the guidance of favourite son John Sutton at the Rabbitohs.

The kid from Redfern had grown up dreaming of donning the cardinal and myrtle, and here he was in his seventh NRL game matching motors with Johnson in the cauldron of Mt Smart Stadium.

On April 15, 2012 it was Johnson who had the last laugh as the Warriors prevailed 44-22, but it was Reynolds who would go all the way to a preliminary final in his first season before Souths bowed out to Canterbury.

Two years later Reynolds stood atop the mountain, helping the Rabbitohs to a drought-breaking premiership triumph and sharing the moment with that man Sutton and fellow Redfern royalty in Greg Inglis and Sam Burgess.

Come 2021 and Adam was no longer a boy, assuming the role of senior statesman as he led the Rabbitohs to another grand final, only to succumb to the rising Panthers juggernaut.

Now calling Brisbane home and looking to inspire another group of classy young guns into a decider, Reynolds renews acquaintances with Johnson in a mouth-watering showdown at a sold-out Suncorp Stadium.

And when the dust has settled on 80 minutes of frenetic finals footy, Reynolds or Johnson will find themselves one step closer to joining the likes of Cooper Cronk, Johnathan Thurston and Kevin Walters in an exclusive club synonymous with endurance and excellence.

Records supplied by league historian David Middleton show that Reynolds or Johnson would become the fifth oldest halfback to win a premiership should they get their hands on the Provan Summons Trophy on October 1.

Remarkably, Cronk holds three of the top four spots, having guided the Roosters to the 2019 title at the tender age of 35 years and 305 days, making it three successive premierships for one of the game’s greatest ever playmakers.

The only other halfback to lead his team to a title as a 35-year-old was Hall of Fame member Jim Craig, who was 35 years and 97 days old when Western Suburbs took down St George in the 1930 decider.

No stranger to the grand final stage, Craig had already won four premierships with Balmain in the early stages of his glittering career, the Tigers taking the spoils in 1915, ’16, ’17, ’19 and ’20.

Like Hall of Famer Craig and modern master Cronk, Brisbane’s main man Reynolds will be looking to win premierships at two clubs and join club legends Kevin Walters (32 and 312 days in 2000) and Allan Langer (32 and 59 days in 1998) in the top 10.

The symmetry is not lost on Reynolds, who has found kindred spirits in Kevvie and Alf since arriving at Red Hill in 2022.

“They are obviously great traits to have [being a thinking player and a ratbag] and I see myself in the same mould [as them],” said Reynolds, who will be 33 and 83 days on grand final day.

“You can’t be switched on and focused 24-7 and I like to enjoy myself away from the field.

“Those aspects lead to becoming a better team player and the mateship moments that go deeper than a game of footy.

“I have fallen in love with footy again up here. You can go through the motions when you have been in once place for so many years but putting yourself around new faces and new people has matured me a bit more.

“I’m loving the role I’m playing here and I’m grateful for the opportunity to play my football up here for a team that has worked extremely hard to put ourselves in this position.

“Guys like Ezra [Mam], he has a great willingness to learn, always asking questions on how to get better.

“As an experienced player I love that side of things. I wish I had done it a bit more when I was a younger bloke.

“When I came here it was about trying to figure out my part and how I could make the team better and I love a challenge – throw anything at me and I’ll try and solve it.

“You always want to leave the best legacy you can. I play the game to make everyone around me better and I try and apply that within my role.”

Across the hallway on Saturday night as Johnson prepares for career game No.252, the desire to help a new generation fulfil their dreams will be just as powerful.

Having spent three years at the Sharks from 2019-21, the prodigal son returned last year on a charter to raise the standards and the spirits at the Warriors after the unsettled COVID seasons.

Things got off to a shaky start last year when the Warriors could manage just six wins but the calming influence of new coach Andrew Webster and the inspirational leadership of Tohu Harris and Johnson has produced a stunning revival.

Much like the holy trinity of Reynolds, Walters and Langer, the Warriors have 2002 grand final captain now assistant coach Stacey Jones working in tandem with Johnson to devise a game plan to deliver the club a maiden title after 28 years in the big time.

“Stacey's had a huge impact on Shaun's career," coach Webster said in July as Johnson celebrated his 200th game for the club.

"Shaun talks about when he was young, Stacey was his idol.

"He looked up to him and wanted to play for the Warriors, because of guys like Stacey.

"Now, Stacey gets to help coach him every week and has had a big impact.

“This year in particular, Stacey has given Shaun clarity around his kicking game, which has made life easier.

"Shaun, because it's simpler, gets to worry about other things. A free Shaun is a good player.

"I think they're good for each other. They bounce ideas off each other.

"It's a cool relationship, seeing two great players at the club that are both halfbacks, working with each other."

Sound familiar?

Eleven years and more than 520 games in the making, the ultimate showdown between two elite playmakers holds the key to which club gets a shot at immortality eight days later... and who gets a shot at joining the esteemed gang of 'golden oldies'.

NRL.com
 

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