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Kangaroo to Kumul: Johnston's experience priceless for PNG

Papua New Guinea say the addition of Rabbitohs fullback Alex Johnston has brought much-needed experience and communication to their spine for Saturday's Test against Fiji in Christchurch.

With former Titans flyer David Mead not available for the match, Johnston will make his Kumuls debut in the No.1 jersey after representing Australia in a lone Test in 2015.

Fullback was a problem area for Papua New Guinea in a 24-6 loss to Samoa in June, with Edene Gebbie enduring a tough night in the position and coming up with three crucial errors.

The experience Johnston brings will be all the more important for the Kumuls given they are without usual captain James Segeyaro, who is fighting a provisional ASADA ban, and injured hooker Kurt Baptiste.

PNG assistant coach David Westley said he expects Johnston to improve everyone around him on Saturday.

"He's got a lot of experience at fullback and he's been talking a lot," Westley said.

Fiji v Papua New Guinea

"That talk from the back is really important for us, and when you are defending it's always good to hear that voice and him communicating the plays.

"[Alex] hasn't played much footy [this year] but the main thing is him bringing his experience into the team and us utilising it.

"He's going to have a good game for us."

Johnston comes off an injury-disrupted season with South Sydney in which he missed time due to minor knee surgery, before suffering ongoing bone bruising in the same knee.

The 24-year-old was coach Wayne Bennett's first-choice fullback in 10 of his 15 games in 2019 and averaged 113 run metres.

Kumuls captain Rhyse Martin said it was pleasing to see Johnston finally able to make his Test debut for PNG after injury prevented him from taking the field in previous campaigns.

"He has been in the NRL for a number of years now but has been unavailable to play with us due to injury," Martin said.

"His experience and his excitement at his first Test for PNG [is good to see].

"It's good to have him in the team, he adds a lot to us and I think he will go really well for us."

Papua New Guinea will need to beat Fiji by 22 points or more if they are to secure promotion to play New Zealand and Tonga in Pool A of the Oceania Cup next year.

While Fiji are coming off a 44-18 drubbing of Samoa at Eden Park last week, Bati coach Brandon Costin said in his view they were still the underdogs.

"They've won the last two Test matches against us and they should be deserving favourites," Costin said of the Kumuls.

"I really think this is one of the strongest sides [PNG] have put on the parkā€¦ Alex Johnston comes into any side and he adds an absolute other dimension.

"They are really dangerous across the park."

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