The South Sydney Rabbitohs Historical Society has corrected another error in the Club’s first grade player register with the discovery of Henry ‘Matey’ Johnston having played eight first grade games in the 1939 season.

Marco Sivis has done some great detective work to bring this to the attention of the South Sydney Rabbitohs Historical Society, which was then confirmed by Michael Curin and the rest of the South Sydney Rabbitohs Historical Society members in Ross Mackay, Brad Ryder and Tallon Smith, who all confirmed that Harold F. Johnson’s appearances in 1939 were actually made by Henry ‘Matey’ Johnston.

Newspapers, club annual reports, and even the Rugby League News were all notorious for spelling errors, especially with similar surnames like Johnson and Johnston, and when players shared the same initials it proved to be even more difficult to determine the real identities of some players. What made these two even harder to identify previously was that they both played in the halves.

Mr Sivis first brought this up to be investigated further by our Historical Society after his initial findings. He claimed that Henry E. Johnston left Souths after the 1930 season to play in the NSWRL Affiliated Third Grade competition for South Sydney Fernleigh in 1931, where his older brother Alick Johnston was captain-coach. This competition was run separately by the NSWRL to their standard First Grade, Reserve Grade and Third Grade competitions, which included only the district clubs. Truth newspaper noted this on 4 October 1931 (page 6) in their match report on South Sydney Fernleigh vs Empire Juniors: “Matey Johnston sent Elliott over for a try in the second stanza and brother Alick landed the goal.” Our former club Historian and Life Member, the late Tom Brock, also recorded H. E. Johnston in 1939 with the nickname ‘Matey’, and as a separate player to H. F. Johnson.

Between 1932-38 Henry ‘Matey’ Johnston played with Maitland United in the Newcastle premiership. The Newcastle Herald published this on 25 April 1932 in their Maitland United vs Morpeth match report: “Maitland’s five eighth N. Pope was the outstanding player on the field, his speed and cleverness in attack paving the way for several tries, and he was to a large extent responsible for Maitland’s success. Johnston a newcomer to the team, played fairly well and gave promise of further improvement.”

Then on 20 May 1932 the Cessnock Eagle and South Maitland Recorder published this in their match report to Maitland United vs Cessnock: “H. Johnston played a superb game with Maitland against Cessnock last Saturday, and it was due to his fine penetrating runs that some of the tries were scored. Previously Johnston was a member of the South Sydney reserve team.”

It is believed what made most historians think it was Harold F. Johnson playing in 1939 was because it was well-known that he coached and played for Central Newcastle in 1937-38, even though Wally Prigg was the club captain. Centrals even won the premiership there in 1937, after defeating Waratah-Mayfield 22-7 in the Grand Final. It was believed he returned to Souths in 1939 to finish his career. Not much was known until now about Henry ‘Matey’ Johnston after he left Souths and it all seemed to fit so nicely.

They even played against each other in one game on 15 May 1937 at Maitland Showground, when Harold F. Johnson was playing for Central Newcastle and Henry ‘Matey’ Johnston was playing for Maitland United in the Newcastle premiership. Centrals won the game by 19-7. The Newcastle Morning Herald reported that all tries were spectacular, particularly the one scored by Henry ‘Matey’ Johnston for Maitland. Receiving near Centrals 25, Johnston, beat at least five defenders before touching down near the posts. It was a wonderful run, and one of the few bright moments in the game. He also converted one other try for his side, while Harold F. Johnson kicked five goals for Centrals in the match.

In 1931, after Cessnock defeated Centrals to win the Garrett Cup (minor premiership), both sides were given toasts at the Newcastle League headquarters. The Newcastle Herald wrote: “Mr. H. Johnson, the coach of Centrals, said that he had played with South Sydney when it was at the top of its form and when it had the greatest club in the world.” It also stated: “He was glad that before his career ended he was able to play with Wally Prigg, the greatest lock forward in the world.” Prigg went on to become the first Newcastle player to captain the Kangaroos on their 1937-38 tour. Johnson was hinting about retiring after the 1937 season, but continued to play on in 1938, where he played in only three more games after getting injured in round four, scoring five goals. He was 32 years old at the end of 1938 and he definitely retired from playing.

The Sporting Globe (Melbourne) newspaper published this about Johnston on 10 May 1939 (page 11) to identify who really played for the Rabbitohs in 1939: “He (Jack Kadwell) was well partnered by Johnston, who was promoted with him a week earlier. He figured in their reserve and third grade some years ago, before going to Maitland. With five-eighths of class not too plentiful, Johnston will be watched with a fair amount of interest.”

This has been great work by Mr Sivis to discover the error and the South Sydney Rabbitohs Historical Society to confirm the error.

Henry ‘Matey’ Johnston now becomes the Club’s first grade player number 1192 on the Club’s first grade player register.


Younger brother of Alick Johnston, who played for Souths in 1920-26. Their parents were Robert Finlay McKenzie Johnston and Annie Geddes. His nephew Alec Johnston (son of Alick), also played for Souths in 1947-49.

The Souths junior was graded by the club in 1930, and within two years he played in 33 lower grade games, scoring two tries and three goals.

He left the Rabbitohs to play in the NSWRL Affiliated Third Grade competition for South Sydney Fernleigh, where his older brother Alick Johnston was captain-coach. Between 1932-38 he played in the Newcastle premiership for Maitland United.

He came back to the Rabbitohs in 1939 where he finally made his first grade debut in his comeback season for the Rabbitohs in round three against Newtown, which also makes him the oldest known Souths player to make his first grade debut at 29 years and 309 days.

He served in the Australian Army during WWII with the 21 Australian Works Company as a Private, between 1941-45 (Service No. N213869). His older brother Alick and nephew Alec also served in the Australian Army during WWI and WWII respectively, and all three appear on our 2018 ANZAC jersey.

Johnston passed away in 1974 at Windang (Wollongong), at the age of 64.

His nephew Alec Johnston was living in the South Sydney district and is the Club’s oldest surviving first grade player at 98 years of age.

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