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How Bennett convinced GI's successor to remain a Rabbitoh

Alex Johnston wants to keep Greg Inglis's cardinal and myrtle No.1 jersey for the rest of his career, less than six months after Wayne Bennett had to convince him not take up an offer tabled by Cronulla.

Bennett's calls to Souths stars Johnston and Damien Cook, among others late last year, provided Brisbane with ammunition to sack him when the standoff between coach and club descended into farce.

In light of Inglis's decision to retire, first at the end of 2020 in mid-January and then on the spot last week, Bennett's frank conversation with Johnston proves pivotal.

While contracted for another two years, Bennett's plans to move Inglis back to fullback had Johnston on edge in November and the Sharks circling, to the point where the local junior had discussed a potential release with Rabbitohs management.

Without Bennett's intervention Johnston concedes he may well have made the move, leaving Souths in a sudden squeeze when Inglis's injuries took their toll.

"Wayne put his faith in me," Johnston told

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"He told me he could get me to where both he and I want me to be as a fullback under his coaching. The message I guess was to just bide my time, keep practising.

"If Greg ended up there, which didn't happen, I could still do my job on the wing and still be valued at the club.

"But the message was there, I felt like I was his pick as a fullback in the future so that made me feel comfortable with myself and my ability to play fullback.

"There were chats [with the Sharks] going on. But after the phone calls with a few parties and then when Wayne spoke to me, it made my decision a lot easier.

"Souths is home and if I've got that fullback position here then I'll be happy for the rest of my career. It's a place I always want to be a part of."  

From well before his first grade debut in 2014, Inglis has played a significant part in Johnston's development.

Five years earlier a teenaged Johnston played the part of a young Inglis in the NRL's pre-season TV advertisement, before going on to claim a cherished Rabbitohs premiership alongside his idol.

He now has Inglis's backing as South Sydney's long-term No.1, and nothing but gratitude for the retired superstar.

"Ideally that fullback spot is what I want. I've spoken to Greg and he's said he wants me there after he's gone," Johnston said.

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"Now that that's happened, I'll have a chat with Souths in the upcoming weeks and see what they're thinking.

"When he first told us he was wrapping up last week, the only thing I could say to him was 'thank you'. That was all I had, 'thanks for everything you've done for me'.

"And he was typical GI, 'no worries' and that was it. But for me, having that fullback role he's helped me a lot, when we won in 2014, GI played the biggest part in that team.

"He helped bring me along so far in that season, and I owe a lot to him."

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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