Record-breaking Bunnies set for Four Nations selection
South Sydney are set to end their 43-year premiership drought by breaking another four decades worth of history, with the Australian Four Nations squad set to include the most Rabbitohs since the 1975 World Cup.
From the Rabbitohs sheds: Alex Johnston
Full coverage of the 2014 NRL Grand Final
Fullback Greg Inglis and gun outside backs Dylan Walker and Alex Johnston are expected to trade in the title-winning cardinal and myrtle of Souths for the green and gold of the Kangaroos when Tim Sheens finalises his 24-man squad on October 14 for internationals against New Zealand, England and Samoa.
Not since the 1975 World Cup, when Bunnies Ron Coote, John O'Neill, Paul Sait, Gary Stevens and George Piggins were members of Graeme Langlands' squad has The Burrow been so well represented in the national colours.
For Johnston and Walker, who have played with and against each other since the age of 14 in the Souths juniors system, it caps a couple of the more remarkable rises from obscurity to international stardom in recent memory.
Johnston's meteoric rise reached dizzying heights when he scored the opening try in the Rabbitohs’ historic 30-6 defeat of Canterbury to claim the 2014 title, and he is now within reach of making his Test debut still three months shy of his 20th birthday.
Walker meanwhile is in contention for a starting spot after a raft of withdrawals amongst Australia's outside backs has already ruled out the likes of Billy Slater, Darius Boyd, Justin Hodges, Brett Morris and Josh Dugan.
The bustling three-quarter only turned 20 himself the day after the Rabbitohs' defeat of arch-rivals the Roosters in last week's grand final qualifier, but has been earmarked as a star of the future after a stellar rep debut in this year's City-Country fixture.
"It would mean a lot to play for Australia, especially to my family," Walker told NRL.com.
"To make them proud, and myself it would be very special if I get the nod. But I'm not going to focus on that, I don't want to look too far ahead, if it comes it comes, if it doesn’t it doesn't."
To claim a maiden grand final and end 43 years of Rabbitohs heartache alongside Johnston, who he teamed up with at SG Ball and Harold Matthews level before being reunited in first grade this year, is a "dream come true" for Walker.
"No way did I ever see this for us, not yet anyway," Walker said.
"We're both so young, and we like to call ourselves the next generation all us young blokes.
"We've played with each other and a few times against each other for so many years now, and it's just awesome to be in a grand final team and share this with someone like him."
Should Johnston don the green and gold throughout tournament, he'll join the likes of Israel Folau, Kerry Boustead and Brad Fittler in making his Kangaroos debut while still in his teens.
Just pipped for Dally M Rookie of the Year honours last week by Wests Tigers halfback Luke Brooks after finishing with 21 tries from 18 games, Johnston credited his outstanding first year in the top flight to the faith shown to him by Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire.
"It's unbelievable. I'm just lucky to be out there, I'm very thankful to the boys and to 'Madge' (Maguire), the coach for giving me this opportunity. It's a great side to be a part of, I can't believe it and I'm just overwhelmed," Johnston said.
"Twelve months ago I was training my arse off hoping to get a shot and to get that opportunity and to be here tonight is a dream come true.
"He was definitely confident in my ability and just really pushed me. He wanted me in that squad and I did everything I could to prove him right and he gave me the opportunity and hopefully I've paid him back."
George and Tom Burgess have also been rewarded for their outstanding displays in Sunday night's decider by being named in England's 24-man squad.
Between them the pair ran for 387 metres against the Bulldogs’ monstrous pack as they turned in their best performances in the red and green, and alongside departing brother Sam, laid the platform for South Sydney’s brutal win.