WATCH: Tom Johnstone determined to make most of second chance with Wakefield Trinity
LIFE for an aspiring rugby league player can certainly be a capricious business.
You only have to speak to Wakefield Trinity winger Tom Johnstone to understand that point.
In March, his start to the new season had been so impressive – especially considering he was just returning from a full knee reconstruction – that the uncapped 22-year-old was drafted into Wayne Bennett’s England elite performance squad.
Yet the following month, after enjoying such a high, he suddenly could not even get into his club side.
Johnstone had scored a spectacular hat-trick in the campaign opener at Hull KR to instantly mark his Super League return from the injury that ruined his 2017 campaign.
But his form soon dipped and head coach Chris Chester left him out for Trinity’s recent win against leaders St Helens and the 38-4 loss at Salford Red Devils.
Johnstone – Super League’s Young Player of the Year in 2016 – had to prove himself all over again but he did regain a spot in last Friday’s 24-4 defeat at Castleford Tigers and is now expected to retain his place for Sunday’s return match with Hull KR.
“Chezzy wasn’t really happy with my defence; he said it wasn’t up to scratch,” Johnstone told The Yorkshire Post when explaining that omission.
“When I first came back into the side after that injury I got the benefit of the doubt.
“But in that Leeds game (a 28-26 loss on April 8) he said I just missed a few too many tackles.
“So, I did a bit of work on that in training and the boys weren’t playing particularly well so I managed to get back in the squad.”
Johnstone realises he must now improve his performances considerably and find consistency if he is realistically going to force his way into Bennett’s plans to face the Kiwis in Denver on June 23.
Along with Leeds second-row Stevie Ward, the only other uncapped player in the current EPS is another winger – Tommy Makinson – who has been in eye-catching form for Saints.
Huddersfield Giants’ Jermaine McGillvary, who featured in the World Cup final, is currently sidelined by injury but is expected back before the end of the month to prove his fitness.
Johnstone added: “There are a lot of good wingers at the minute playing really well.
“You’ve got Ryan Hall who is the top-metre maker as well and I have to work really hard to get in there by putting in the best performances I can for Wakefield.
“Hopefully, I’ll get the nod to go and play over there in that game in America.
“We had a meeting last Monday in Bury.
“I got to go and meet all the boys, get to know people and get a few pictures and things done.
“But it was really just letting us know the information over the next couple of years about what they want from the England team and how they want us to behave and perform.
“It was good to get over there and meet everyone. It was a real eye-opener.”
Johnstone’s priority, though, is Wakefield who – like Sunday’s 10th placed opponents Rovers – are in real need of a win.
That victory on Saints is Trinity’s only success in the last eight games and they can ill-afford another defeat.
Furthermore, Chester’s side have scored just two tries in their last two outings so, despite winning their opening four matches, must regain a killer touch soon.
“It is really important,” added Johnstone, about Sunday’s contest. “We said we want to play the game to how we play it but no matter what we have to come out with the two points.
“It’s really important we do that. We’ve not been playing too well and neither have Hull KR. They are struggling.
“But they have been pushing teams really close and been in games until the last 10 minutes, so we’re expecting quite a tough game come Sunday.”
A repeat of that 28-6 success on the opening night would be just the tonic for Trinity who expect to recall Liam Finn and Scott Grix, plus have fit-again Australian prop David Fifita and Aucklander Justin Horo back to boost options.
Recalling playing his first Super League game in 10 months, Johnstone said: “All I wanted to do at the start of the season was to get back in the game.
“But I couldn’t have had a better start than that, getting a hat-trick like that.
“It set the season off really well for me. I was a bit nervous coming into it as there was talk whether it would be me or Mason (Caton-Brown) who would start.
“I managed to just pip him to get in, so I just wanted to go out and do the best I could.
“But I got some good service from Milky (Jacob Miller) and managed to get three tries in the corner.
“I’ve no problems at all with the knee now. I don’t get any pain with it any more.
“I definitely feel back to full fitness. I struggled with a bit of fitness a couple of games in and was feeling a bit sore and feeling a bit down.
“But now I’ve had a good run of games I’m feeling fine and raring to go.”