DREAM Team winger Tom Johnstone has taken his England omission on the chin.
The Wakefield Trinity try-scoring sensation ran in a hat-trick on his Test debut in a big win over France, but that was not enough to earn him selection for the subsequent three-game series against New Zealand.
Wing is one of England’s strongest positions and coach Wayne Bennett opted to go with Tommy Markinson alongside tried and tested Jermaine McGillvary, of Huddersfield Giants.
The St Helens man went on to be named player of the series and won the Golden Boot for the best international performances over the past year, but despite the frustration of having to watch from the sidelines Johnstone insisted: “It was really good, I really enjoyed the last four and a half weeks.”
He reflected: “It has been a real eye-opener and a change of scenery and it was really good to be alongside some of the top people in the competition who I play against week-in, week-out.
“To actually get to know them and train alongside them has been really enjoyable. It’s a bit upsetting, obviously, not managing to play, but when you’ve got Tommy Makinson filling on the left and playing that well you’ve just got to applaud it.
“Obviously I wanted to play, but he has taken his chance well and I can happily sit back and watch him when he’s playing that well. If he hadn’t played so well maybe I might have got a chance, but hats off to him. He has been outstanding this series.”
Of Makinson’s two awards, Johnstone said he was “over the moon for him”.
He added: “He is a real top lad and he has helped me out in camp and beforehand. To see him doing really well is pleasing and I am glad he has taken his chance.”
With Sydney Roosters’ former Leeds Rhinos ace Ryan Hall expected to be fit before England play again the path into the Test team will not get any easier, but Johnstone’s first taste has made him even keener to take the next step.
He said: “I want to enjoy a few weeks away from rugby and relax first, but I am really hungry and eager to get back to training and kick on and have a big year next year.
“Hopefully I can put my name in contention and get a start and see what I can do.”
A year ago Johnstone was recovering from a season-ending knee injury. He was Betfred Super League’s second-highest try scorer in 2018, with 24 and admitted: “Going from where I was 12 months ago to now is amazing and I could not be happier. I wouldn’t have expected to be in the England camp 12 months ago so to be in it and be part of what the boys have achieved is something that’s going to live with me forever. I am really happy with that.”
Trinity began pre-season training this week and Johnstone is due in on December 10. He said: “I’ve got four weeks, they’ve given me a fair break and I can go and enjoy myself for a bit, but I won’t get too sloppy and I can come back and really kick on.”