Johnston primed for biggest test yet
South Sydney Rabbitohs try-scoring machine Alex Johnston has marked up against the likes of experienced wingers Beau Ryan, Pat Richards and Kevin Gordon in his first 10 games of NRL but his biggest career game awaits him this Friday evening against the ladder-leading Manly Sea Eagles at the historic Sydney Cricket Ground.
While his debut came in front of a packed house at Suncorp Stadium on ANZAC day, Johnston has admitted that his first game against the likely minor premiers will prove to be the most important character-building experience of his young career as he gears up for an intriguing match-up with New Zealand international and fellow young gun Peta Hiku.
"I'm looking forward to taking on the Sea Eagles for the first time at the SCG so I can't wait," Johnston said.
"I think [this game] is the biggest test for me personally. It was hard up in Brisbane with my nerves but coming up against a great side, a premiership-winning side in the last couple of years, it will be a great test."
The softly spoken 19-year-old has been a welcome addition in the first-grade arena out Redfern way and had massive shoes to fill having replaced Souths' all-time leading try scorer Nathan Merritt in the team in late April.
While the veteran Merritt remains in NSW Cup, Johnston has taken the NRL by storm and has proven a worthy successor having already scored an outstanding 14 tries in 10 appearances – only two tries off the pace set by the competition's leading try scorer Semi Radradra.
"I'm definitely surprised that I have scored so many tries," Johnston said. "I didn't think I would be in this situation but when I have good players outside me delivering balls it isn't too hard to run and put the ball down.
"I think everyone keeps an eye on that [try-scoring] tally but I'm not too worried about it. I just have to focus on the games week-in, week-out."
While the La Perouse junior has made it clear his preferred position is fullback it hasn't worried the rookie in the slightest as to what side of the field he plays, having been moved around the paddock in recent weeks. With Lote Tuqiri preferring to play on the right wing in the NRL, Johnston has remained fluent in the top flight regardless of the corridor he patrols.
"I've played mainly on the right but I've played a couple on the left as well. I don't mind it because I don't really have a preferred side so really I'm happy with whatever benefits the team," Johnston said.
"I just focus on my own game and I don't find it much different. We have our combinations that we work on during the week so when it gets to the game we're ready to go."
Speaking of combinations, Rabbitohs halves duo Adam Reynolds and Luke Keary are starting to pay dividends for the team after leading their club to massive wins over the Raiders and Knights over the past two weeks.
With captain and first-choice five-eighth John Sutton currently on the sideline with a knee injury, Reynolds is excited to test out his new arrangement with Keary against the competition's best halves partnership Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran.
"Lukey and I have only played a couple of games together this year so as a halves combination it is going to be good to see where we are at and how we are going," Reynolds said.
"Our bond is pretty strong... but in saying that we have a fair bit of work ahead of us over the next few weeks which will be another step in the right direction for us.
"The boys have been rolling forward and that makes our job a lot easier. This weekend is exciting. It feels like finals. There's a good vibe around at the moment."