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Players adamant no asterisk needed for 2020 premiers

It's a burning question that will leave many pundits debating for years if the NRL season can complete its season – will the 2020 premiers be marked in the history books with an asterisk?

You know, that annoying little "*" symbol that sits on the end of the word with usually a footnote at the bottom of the page.

Knights legend Andrew Johns, who guided the Knights to premiership victory in 1997, knows all about it.

He told listeners on the Wide World of Sports' Freddy and the Eighth while speaking with close mate Brad Fittler that he still is reminded of the split competition in 1997 due to the Super League war.

"Right after the '97 grand final, I kept hearing, 'yeah, it was only half a comp, you didn't beat the Broncos'," Johns said.

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"Which, they're right. I don't know whether we would have beaten the Broncos in that era. They were red-hot and had 22 internationals at the club. So there's always that thing, [but] over time, I've heard it less."

Johns believes the 2020 season will be given a similar review regardless of whether the ARL Commission can get 15-20 rounds completed by season's end.  

"Unfortunately, there will always be that asterisk against the team that wins the competition," Johns said.

"But, I think it's a fair indication with two rounds and another 13 rounds with teams playing each other once. The cream always rises to the top and then the semi-finals series we'll see the best of the best."

However, in the current landscape, it would be hard to tell that to the 480 players across two countries who are busting their backsides to get back onto the field.  

Players who are set to make sacrifices and follow strict guidelines in a bid to ensure there is a grand final day this year. For their livelihoods, for their families and for their five-month pre-season over the summer where they pushed themselves to the limit.

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Or try telling the Warriors in particular, who face the toughest test of all to likely relocate to Australia for an extended period in a bid to lift the trophy, that a potential title could be considered less rewarding than others.

And what about the Raiders, who are still burning by their grand final defeat to the Roosters last season, that their possible year of going one better may not matter as much.

"I was thinking about it the other day and I can see both arguments sitting on the fence," Cowboys forward Coen Hess told NRL.com.

"Obviously it's still a premiership, we train all season and put our bodies through a lot of struggle to get to where we are.

"Winning the comp is what we play for. But on the other side you can see it will probably have that little asterisk beside the 2020 season.

"But that doesn't mean I wouldn't still claim it 100%. It's still one of the hardest competitions in the world of sport.

"I'd be riding the same emotion, you put your body through so much."

And what about Bulldogs skipper Josh Jackson, the tireless back-rower who has played 183 games, including the pain of two grand final defeats?

"It absolutely still will feel like a premiership, you've still got to be the best team in the competition and get yourselves within a position to make the finals which is extremely hard itself," Jackson said.

"You've got to go through a whole finals process. It might even be the best ever because it has been such a disturbing season that's really interrupted."

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Connor Watson's Newcastle Knights have started the season with two wins and haven't reached the top eight in six years.

A 15-round competition would require them to win at least six of their final 13 games to secure a finals spot.

"I think it will be just as rewarding in a sense that you only have to look at what everyone is going through," Watson said.

"If you won the competition this year how good would it feel with all that's going on in the world?

"And even though it looks like it will be a shorter season everyone goes in with that mindset to win and be the best team for that year.

"Everyone's going through the same thing and everyone will play the same amount of games. The best teams will still be there at the end."

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Premiership winners Jordan McLean and Zane Tetevano, who have each since moved on since clinching titles at the Storm and Roosters respectively, offered a similar outlook. 

"It's hard to say until we see what sort of look it is on grand final day," McLean, now a Cowboy, said.

"I know from that last game that we played I didn't really know what kind of feeling that would happen when we played with no crowd.

"About 10 minutes into the game you forget all about that and get back into playing footy.

"You don't notice too much of the outside at times so I reckon once we get back into games and the roles it will mean as much as any year."

Tetevano's journey in his NRL career offers a different perspective. 

His career was all but over following a jail sentence in 2015 until he later returned with the Roosters to secure a premiership ring three years later.

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"If the competition is going to be played in any format the rewards will still be the same," the Penrith prop said. 

"If anything, it presents a new challenge for individuals to go away on their own and keep up their training so when it comes to everyone being back in the squad you don't want to be the one to let everyone down.

"This is where it matters now, this is where the lights are out and it's up to you to be doing all the work behind the scenes. Players will still feel like they accomplished something special and the club and fans should feel that way too."