HE already has a place in Wigan folklore, now Paul Johnson is aiming to help the Warriors’ next generation of players after returning to his hometown club.
Fans who watched the Under-20s go down 42-16 at Leigh on Friday night may have spotted the former Great Britain Test star running onto the pitch to carry instructions as the team’s match-day trainer.
Johnson will be helping out the academy teams in 2012 as he looks to carve out a career as a strength and conditioning coach.
And the man who scored Wigan’s last ever try at Central Park back in 1999 says he is thrilled to be back with the club where he won Grand Final and Challenge Cup honours during nearly a near-decade long stay.
He said: “When I went away all those years ago, it wasn’t the same as being at my home-town club.
“I always wanted Wigan to do well and it’s great being back here.
“I’m enjoying working with the academy, my aim is to be a strength and conditioning coach and I’d like to be involved as much as I can.”
Johnson has enrolled on a course at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston, and will supplement his studying with his involvement at the Warriors.
“I looked at coaching but it didn’t interest me as much as the training side of things,” he said.
“I’ve got quite a bit of experience, but putting that into practise, and getting the knowledge across to the players is completely different.”
Johnson debuted for Wigan as a teenager and helped the club to Grand Final (1998) and Challenge Cup (2002) honours before joining Bradford ahead of the 2004 campaign. He added more silverware to his CV before moving on to Warrington, Wakefield and Crusaders.
A strong-running centre or second-rower, he is the last player to score a hat-trick for Great Britain – in 2005 – and played in every Super League season until hanging up his boots at the end of last season.
Johnson, 33, actually signed an extension at Welsh club Crusaders to play on in 2012 – only for the deal to be torn up when the club withdrew from Super League.
Yet despite being forced into retirement, he is content to be taking his first steps on a new career path and insists he will not be dusting off the boots to play again.
“Definitely not!” he laughed. “I do get twitchy watching the game, thinking I could still be out there. But I’ve had my time – I’m enjoying doing something new now.”
Johnson is certainly no stranger to the Warriors staff. He played alongside rugby manager Kris Radlinski for several years, was coached at Crusaders by his ex-Bulls team-mate Iestyn Harris – Shaun Wane’s No.2 – and has been friends with assistant Paul Deacon since they started out at Hindley juniors together.
FORMER Wigan coach Michael Maguire got off to a losing start as Souths coach, with a young side going down 34-28 to Warrington during a friendly last Saturday. The Wolves have been in Australia on a training camp.