Almost Six: Johnston
This article first appeared on NRL.com.
Rabbitohs winger Alex Johnston has had a friendly dig at club trainer Ben Gardiner for some stray advice that he reckons could have cost him what would have been a record-breaking sixth try against the Panthers at ANZ Stadium on Sunday.
As it is, Johnston equalled the club record of five tries in a match – set by Harold Horder (twice) in 1917 against North Sydney and equalled most recently by club legend Nathan Merritt in 2011 against Parramatta.
The 22-year-old roamed in off his wing looking for chances and even had one possible four-pointer turned down by the bunker for a knock-on in the lead-up.
Set upon by media after the game for his thoughts on his record-equalling afternoon, Johnston had a cheeky dig at club staffer Gardiner.
"There was one time the trainer came on, Benny Gardner's his name, I'm going to quote him because he told me to go to the middle to look for it, then the ball went out to where I should have been and I wasn't there!" Johnston laughed. "So I'm a bit off him at the moment."
On a more serious note, Johnston said it was a special experience made even more special by the chance to do it wearing a club Indigenous jersey, in NAIDOC week, in front of close friends and family.
"It was pretty special. Especially with that [Indigenous] jersey and my family in the crowd, to score five tries, it was a pretty awesome feeling for sure," he added.
His coach Michael Maguire, skipper Sam Burgess and halfback Adam Reynolds also had plenty of praise for his record outing.
"He's a star, he's played for Australia," Reynolds told NRL.com.
"The upside to his game is massive. He's a very important part of the club and we're lucky enough to have him for a couple more years now and he does resemble Nathan Merritt in a big way. Both proud Indigenous boys and very fast and they're good finishers.
"He knows how to find the try-line certainly, I might have to start hanging round him a bit more and hopefully a bit of that magic can rub off!"
Maguire said he was "really happy" for Johnston.
"He works hard, like all of them (the players) and it was a special day for him," Maguire said.
"He was pretty busy trying to get his number six there which was pretty pleasing. He's quick and we could put him at fullback but he's gone out on the edge there and it sort of frees him up a little bit and he can get around the field and come up with those sorts of tries."
Burgess also admitted there had been a plan to try and get Johnston to the magical six-try milestone.
"We were trying, we came up with a special play down that short side to try and get him over there at the end," Burgess said.