Gus, Joey lift lid on infamous 2003 Origin photo

The first episode of Wide World of Sports’ Stories of Origin podcast will be released on Friday May 13. This story is taken from episode two, The Champions, which will be released on Monday May 16. Subscribe to Stories of Origin on Spotify, Apple, Google.

Phil Gould and Andrew Johns have lifted the lid on an infamous photo snapped during the 2003 State of Origin camp.

Newspapers at the time ran the image on the front pages, claiming a rift between the superstar halfback and the New South Wales coach at the time.

The photo shows coach Gould extending his right arm towards Johns, who stands with his arms crossed looking unimpressed.

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Gould had pulled Johns out of a team lunch and taken him onto the nearby training field to speak one-on-one.

“At the time I wasn’t playing that well. I had a lot of discussions away from footy, probably footy wasn’t my No.1 focus… other things were getting in the way,” Johns recalled for Wide World of Sports’ Stories of Origin podcast.

“He put me on show, and I didn’t take it too well. It blew up – there’s photos everywhere. It was all paper talk, I was never not going to play.

“I went home and I did that much extra training, got myself rock hard fit, and then we got into Origin and I was ready to go.”

Johns admits he was filthy with Gould at the time the photo was taken, but in hindsight knows it was what he needed.

“There’s no one better at managing man, and managing big egos too. And at the time I needed my wings clipped, I needed a kick in the backside and I wouldn’t get it anywhere else,” he said.

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“You get to a certain level, people don’t tell you the truth. They bulls–t to you. He didn’t bulls–t me, he hit me straight between the eyes.

“At the time I didn’t like it, but I look back now and realize it’s what needed to be done. There’s only a couple of people who would do that, and Gus was one of them.”

Media reports claimed the photo showed an angry Gould laying down the law to his out-of-form Origin halfback.

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But the man himself explained what was really going in.

“The reporting of that incident was disgraceful back in the day, and was pointed at me more than anything, and made it very difficult for him,” Gould told Wide World of Sports’ Six Tackles with Gus podcast.

“I remember the actual photo – in that photo I was actually explaining to him how I wanted him to defend.

“I defended him behind the line, in an old-fashioned role, and he would only loom into the line to put pressure on (Darren) Lockyer, whichever side of the field he was. So rather than defend one position he would defend one player.

“I was actually standing there talking to him (saying) ‘you will stand behind the line’, and that’s the photo where I’m going like that (holding my hand up). (The media) dressed it up into something it wasn’t ‘t.”

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Following that incident, reports claimed Johns had threatened to withdraw from the Blues squad and sit out the 2003 Origin series.

He says that was never going to happen. Gould made sure it didn’t.

“Joey called me a couple weeks later… and said ‘Do you want me in the team or not?’,” Gould said.

“And I said ‘Andrew they’ve sold 52,000 tickets to this game, they’re not coming to watch me coach, mate, they’re coming to watch you play’.

“And that was that. He was outstanding, we won the first two games.”

The Blues won the 2003 Origin series with Gould and Johns at the helm.

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