Sam Johnstone is set to be named in Ryan Carr’s U20s squad for Friday’s clash with the Parramatta Eels, meaning the 116kg, ‘mad redhead’ prop is on track to be one of four Young Rabbitohs to play every game of the 2017 season.
With the team all but confirmed a spot in the 2017 NYC Finals, General Manager of Football Shane Richardson took the opportunity to highlight the hard work Johnstone had put in during the 2017 season.
“He’s what makes a club, because every club needs a player like him… Every club needs to have one mad redhead!” said Richardson.
“He’s one of the best, young front rowers to come through this Club ever, along with teammate Ky Rodwell.”
Johnstone comes from a sporting family. His mother, Pam, qualified for the Commonwealth Games training squad for swimming when she was 16 and his cousin is one of the captains of the under 25s Australian shooting team who’ll compete in the Commonwealth games next year.
Like his mother, Johnstone has enjoyed early success in his chosen sport, being named in the Queensland U20s squad this year. He’s also excited by the arrival of Dane Gagai at Redfern Oval, although Johnstone can already boast a connection to the Wally Lewis Medal winning outside back.
“A lot of good players come out from Mackay; Daly Cherry-Evans, Ben Barba and Dane Gagai. It’s just second nature up there, everyone plays Rugby League,” said Johnstone.
“I know the Gagai’s pretty well, I went to school with Dane’s younger brother Jacob and Ray (their dad) was actually my coach for an under 16’s rep side.
“I’ve been lucky as well, ‘Seibs’ (Rabbitohs assistant coach Anthony Seibold) is from back home as well, and he was in the Cutters ’system back in Mackay, so yeah it’s worked out really well.”
Richardson points to Johnstone as the perfect example of what the Rabbitohs are looking for in players, and said his emergence was a testament to the Club’s recruitment and wellbeing programs.
“We won’t be going out to recruit ten players, we’re past that and we’ll be looking to develop our own, and Sam’s one of those,” said Richardson.
‘’We’ve got so many great young kids coming through, if you’re going to bring in someone that will block that off, then those young players will leave. I think it comes to the heart of our wellbeing program which is getting better and better, and he’s a product of that.
“The fact we can bring in a kid from Mackay into Sydney, develop him and move him into a really good family where he’s developing every week is something we can attribute to what the ‘Rabbitoh Way’ is and what we’re trying to do.
“We’re very specific when it comes to recruitment - it’s part of the plan on where we want to be in two, three and five years’ time so we don’t ever get ourselves back in the position where we are now.”
Officially signing with the Rabbitohs in 2015, Johnstone did his apprenticeship in the Rabbitohs SG Ball squad but it could easily have been the Raiders or Roosters that snared the junior representative forward. Johnstone reveals that a chat with Head Coach Michael Maguire convinced him to come to Souths.
“I was actually on a scholarship with the Raiders, and the Roosters were looking at me as well, but we had a bit of a chat and I came up to Redfern to have a look,” said Johnstone.
“I had a few chats to Madge and I really liked what he had to say and I thought it would be the best place for me and it has been.
“I was actually at the 2014 Grand Final on an end-of-year footy trip, so to see them win a Grand Final and knowing the history of the Club, I knew Madge had a good plan for me.
“I was really confident with what he had to say and I decided to come here and I haven’t looked back. I think I’ve been playing some good footy and I’m looking forward to our run to the finals.”
However, the seed may have been planted in Johnstone’s head long before he met Michael Maguire as he reveals his mum accidently got him supporting the Rabbitohs as a 10-year old.
“Funnily enough I’ve been supporting the Rabbitohs since I was ten years old. My mum didn’t know much about footy and accidentally bought me a Rabbitohs jersey one day and from there on it grew.
“Especially when Greg Inglis moved to the Club, he’s one of my favourite players, it kind of assured me that they would be the team to go for.”