‘Get the f**k out of the way:’ Johns’ face off with Mundine
For someone like Matty Johns, whose gift of the gab has seen him build an impressive and acclaimed broadcasting career, learning to "shut up and listen" is as challenging as slotting a matchwinning goal or scoring the deciding try.
But the former Newcastle Knights and NSW rugby league star turned Fox League host has tasked himself with just that this season, as he expands his TV gigs to include a new interview show, Face-To-Face with Matty Johns.
The 49-year-old radio and TV star has already begun sitting down with some of the game's most fascinating characters and powerful deal-makers, ahead of the program's launch - including chats with triple code star, Karmichael Hunt; Storm rising star Nicho Hynes; loudmouth larrikin Anthony 'Choc' Mundine; and league boss, Peter V'landys.
Johns credits broadcasting icon, Michael Parkinson with inspiring his golden rule for the show he hopes to base on Parky's eponymous one.
"He told me he only liked to interview people he respected and that's what I do," Johns tells The BINGE Guide.
That's not to say Johns doesn't find himself being confronted and challenged by those he sits opposite - tackling some of the most controversial headlines that plagued his career.
For example, former Dragons gun Mundine admits he "blamed" Johns as the reason he quit league after the latter was chosen ahead of him for the State Of Origin series.
Accusing selectors of racism and overlooking his talents because of his Aboriginality, Mundine tells Johns that "after [Johns] got picked ahead of him, he just said 'if that bloke's getting picked ahead of me, I'll give it away."
Tackling the issue head on, Johns admits Mundine's claims used to cause him offence, "thinking 'I worked hard for this.' Now I look back and I think "he's probably got a point, but I don't say that in the interview. I do say: 'do you really think you were better than me? And it won't surprise you to learn he said 'yes,'" Johns laughs.
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It is Hunt, making a return to league in the Queensland Cup this year, who also holds a mirror to Johns about his own off-field scandals; impressing the presenter with how the New Zealand-born dual international has overcome his drug-related issues.
"Like me, he's had some difficulties off the field. So I'm sitting there thinking to myself 'should I go there? when he just says straight up, 'Matty, come on, let's address the elephant in the room and he starts to talk about it," Johns reveals.
"What you'll get out of Karmichael is the fact that I don't know anyone who has mastered himself like that," he says.
"He's a bloke who is acutely aware of the things that start to send him down the wrong path. He's learned that, he knows what it's about. He knows the things that lead to that and he's addressed it. And he just doesn't do it anymore."
With his own post-career crisis in full swing, Johns' friend and former Souths Sydney star Sam Burgess has an open invitation to be on the show.
After an ugly divorce from influencer wife, Phoebe, separating just a few weeks after the birth of their son, Billy, the English league and union star returned to the headlines recently when he was found guilty of intimidating her father; then again when he was arrested for drug driving on his way to take custody of his two children.
Johns "sat down with Sam for an hour last year, and of course, a lot's happened in that time. When it's all over, if Sam would allow me to, I'd love to do an interview with [him]."
Treading carefully, Johns admits "I'm a mate of Sam's and I don't see myself as a bloke who knocks around with mugs. There's a lot that's been going on and everything, but it doesn't change the way I feel about it."
It's the strength of Johns' career-long friendships that have been at the heart of his success, forging a brotherhood with old league foes Nathan Hindmarsh and Bryan Fletcher for their weekly Fox League shows, The Late Show with Matty Johns each Thursday and Sunday Night with Matty Johns show [6pm, with Emma Freedman].
Stopped often in the street or airports by viewers who love the comedy panel show, Johns says his comeback quip is always "thanks for your low standards."
But there's no doubt Johns is an earnest student of his craft, setting himself goals to be better and get better at what he's doing.
It was only after watching back some of his earlier radio and TV interviews that Johns set himself the task of speaking as little as possible in one-on-ones.
"I actually started to go back and look at these interviews and I'd try to count the amount of words I said. So it actually become almost a competition," he explains.
"I think my record for a 30-minute one was about 80 words," adding, in his man-on-the-street style, "I've just learned to get the f*ck out of the way and let a person talk."
* Face To Face with Matty Johns, 7.30pm, Wednesday, Fox League. Every NRL game in 2021 is live and ad-break free on Fox League. Watch on Foxtel or stream on Kayo.
Originally published as 'Get the f**k out of the way:' Johns' face off with Mundine