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South Sydney record holder Alex Johnston has played down the prospect of surpassing Ken Irvine as the greatest tryscorer in premiership history but he promised the Rabbitohs fans who helped save his career at the club that there were plenty more tries to come.

Johnston bettered Nathan Merritt’s Rabbitohs record of 146 tries with a hat-trick in Saturday night’s 44-18 defeat of Wests Tigers to become the leading tryscorer for the NRL’s oldest and most successful club.

Merritt also scored eight tries for Cronulla in the 2004 and 2005 seasons for a career tally of 154 tries in 237 NRL appearances.

Fittingly, the star winger, who is proud of his Saibai Island heritage, achieved the feat in Indigenous Round and he later joked that he wouldn't take off his jersey for a week but at just 27 years of age Johnston has more records within reach.

With 147 tries in 178 appearances for Souths, Johnston has the best strike rate of any player since former Dragons winger Nathan Blacklock, who scored 121 tries in 142 matches between 1995 and 2004.

Hear from Alex Johnston after his record breaking night

In comparison to Blacklock, who averaged a try every 1.17 appearances, Johnston scores every 1.21 matches and would need another 78 games to reach Irvine’s record of 212 tries if he continued at the same rate.

Irvine, who played 236 matches for North Sydney and Manly, averaged a try every 1.11 matches – a strike-rate only bettered by Harold Horder, who scored 152 tries in 139 appearances for the Rabbitohs and Bears between 1912 and 1924.

The players in between Johnston and Irvine's record are:

  • Billy Slater 190 (1.67 matches per try)
  • Steve Menzies 180 (1.93)
  • Brett Morris 176 (1.56)
  • Andrew Ettingshausen 165 (1.97)
  • Terry Lamb 164 (2.13)
  • Brett Stewart 163 (1.42)
  • Matt Sing 159 (1.72)
  • Hazem El Masri 159 (1.89)
  • Josh Morris 158 (2.05)
  • Nathan Merrit 154 (1.54)
  • Michael Jennings 154 (1.93)
  • Harold Horder 152 (0.91)
  • Manu Vatuvei 152 (1.48)
  • Greg Inglis 149 (1.76)

Steve Renouf scored 142 tries in 183 appearances for the Broncos at an average of a try per 1.28 matches.

Ken Irvine is the greatest try scorer in premiership history
Ken Irvine is the greatest try scorer in premiership history ©NRL Photos

Asked about the prospect of overtaking Irvine, Johnston said: “Let's not put the mocker on. One game at a time, just keep them ticking over and whatever happens happens".

Barring injury Johnston is on track to surpass Irvine's tally before his current contract expires at the end of the 2025 season if the Rabbitohs play regular finals football or in early 2026.

After being presented with the match ball on Saturday night, Johnston thanked Rabbitohs fans for their role in organising a petition to convince the club to re-sign him in 2020.

Hat-trick hero Johnston becomes Rabbitohs all-time leading try scorer

“It means a lot to me. There is no club I would rather play for," Johnston said. "I love this club and to break this record is something I could never have dreamed of.

“Obviously we all know what happened a few years ago. I was almost not here. There was a petition going around that a lot of fans signed.

“I like to think that the top dogs had a look at that and said, ‘We might need to keep this bloke’. I’m very thankful for the fans for doing that. It all worked out. I’m just so happy."

Asked if he had repaid the fans by becoming the club's greatest tryscorer, Johnston said: “I think I’ve got plenty more tries to go to hopefully pay them back”.

Johnston said team-mates were aware he was closing on Merritt's record.  

“Campbell Graham inside me knew as well. When he passed me the ball for the last try he just started screaming 'History, history' and 'record'. I think he was more pumped than I was.

"It just goes to show the kind of club and team-mates we have, we all care and love each other. I am just thankful to be a part of it."

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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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