As secretary of the Alexandria Rovers Junior Rugby League Club for the past seven years and with a lifetime of involvement with the club, Johnstone has seen countless kids come through and promise plenty but get caught up in the distractions of teenage life.
A few years ago Rovers had an under-17s team that was ticking along nicely, thanks largely to a halves pairing that was the envy of the competition. The halfback was a kid who was just beginning to grow into his body but had always played a couple of steps ahead of his opposition – and his team-mates. The five-eighth was a terrific individual talent but struggled to operate within the confines of a team structure, always wanting to be the star of the show.
Five years later and Adam Reynolds is the overwhelming favourite to be named the 2012 NRL Rookie of the Year as South Sydney push towards a rare semi-final appearance in the world’s premier rugby league competition. His former halves partner is trying to put his life back together having spent the past four years in jail.
“I grew up in a pretty rough area, Waterloo/Redfern, most of my mates around there either ended up in jail or not kicking on with football,” Reynolds (pictured) tells Big League. “They all had talent and they all could have gone places but they just went down the wrong path unfortunately.”
Adds Johnstone: “There was a boy who was in all the junior teams with [Adam] and he went to jail for four years, he’s just got out now. He was the five-eighth and he was just as talented but an individualist.
“Adam chose the right path, took the harder option. The easy option is to roam the streets at night with your mates but he chose to finish year 12, get his education and look at him now. I think he’s going to be a long, long time first grade footballer.”
It’s an opinion that is shared by Craig Coleman, South Sydney’s most capped halfback with 208 first grade games, behind only Bob McCarthy for most ever games in the red and green.
Fate would have it that the 21-year-old who appears the man most likely to threaten ‘Tugger’ Coleman’s record would be coached by the man as a teenager, a man who saw something in the tiny halfback that compelled him to select him a year before his time.
“I picked him when he was still 12 months younger, his first year in SG Ball,” Coleman says. “He deserved to play a year older because he was a lot better than a lot of kids older than him. Even though he was only small he was a very, very good player.
“He had a lot of skill… there was nothing that he couldn’t do. He was a great goalkicker, even as a young bloke, his kicking game was great and he was a noted tryscorer.
“That [knee] injury he had last year, give him another 12 months and he’ll get that speed back. When Matraville High won the Arrive Alive Cup [in 2007, pictured] he won the Peter Sterling Medal and I think he scored three or four tries in the semi-final just to get them into the final.
“You just knew that he was always going to be a first grader. He’s dedicated, he’s a good trainer and he’s got a long career ahead of him.”
Perry Johnstone knows all too well the small margins in which talented young footballers from the streets of Sydney’s inner suburbs operate in.