Johnston mulls PNG switch

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SOUTH Sydney fullback Alex Johnston says he will consider playing for Papua New Guinea and follow the lead of Indigenous All Stars teammate Andrew Fifita by honouring his Pacifika heritage.
Johnston was one of the many NRL players who attended the NRL’s Cultural Leadership Camps at Sydney’s North Head Quarantine Station.
Fifita, pictured, who will play for the Indigenous All Stars in Friday night’s match against New Zealand Maori, has pledged his allegiance to Tonga at test level and joined the sessions with other players of Pacific Island heritage as he has attended previous Indigenous player camps.
Johnston, who will make his second All Stars appearance, took part in the Indigenous sessions but he said he would like to learn more about his PNG culture and revealed how he had almost played for the Kumuls at the 2017 World Cup.
“I was going to play for them but I tore my hamstring.
“That was unlucky because it would have been pretty cool to represent that side of my family,” Johnston said
“My nan (grandmother) was originally from Papua New Guinea but she has a Torres Strait Islands background too. She met my grandfather in PNG and they moved to Brisbane.
“That was a while ago and I don’t know too much about my PNG culture so it is pretty good for me to come to these camps and learn a bit more about my Indigenous culture and be around the other boys as well so I get to learn a bit there too.”
With 47 per cent of Telstra Premiership players having Pacific Islands heritages and 12 per cent being Indigenous, the NRL has been running cultural leadership camps for several years but this was the first time both groups have been in the same place.
It was also the first time women’s players have been invited, with Warriors fullback Apii Nicholls and prop Annetta Nuuausala joining coach Luisa Avaiki, St George Illawarra halfback Raecene McGregor and Sydney Roosters second-rower Simaima Taufa at the Pacifika camp.
The players listened to keynote speakers, such as NRL senior manager of international strategy and awards Frank Puletua and Aboriginal activist Paul Coe, while discussing issues which affected their communities, such as rising oceans in the Pacific.
They also took part in cultural workshops, which included learning traditional skills such as fire starting and spear throwing.
“I’ve been to a few of these and they are always good,” Johnston said.
“You do activities like making the rope and learning to throw the spears so that’s pretty cool.”
With Greg Inglis recovering from knee surgery and Ben Barba having been sacked by North Queensland, Johnston is expected to play fullback for the Indigenous All Stars.
He confirmed that was his preferred position for the Rabbitohs but was prepared to make way for Inglis by moving to the wing.
“I am pretty sure I will be starting the year at fullback, depending on how Greg goes, and I will just try to play my best footy there to cement my spot,” he said.
“If Greg ends up playing there then there is a spot for me on the wing and at the end of the day I am still playing footy and I am still playing the game I love.
“If I am on the wing I am sure I will be scoring some tries and enjoying my footy,” the South Sydney back said.
“At the end of the day, fullback is the role I want.
“That is where my goals are set so I just want to play some good footy, keep learning and achieve that goal.”
Johnston insisted he had not been approached by the Cowboys as a replacement for Barba and was pleased new Souths coach Wayne Bennett had publicly declared he was part of the club’s long-term plans.
“It was pretty cool for Wayne to come out and say that and make me feel like I am definitely wanted by the club, which I have always felt anyway,” Johnston said.
“At the start of the year, the Sharks contacted me but since then it has all just been media speculation.
“I don’t know if some people are just joining the dots.” – NRL

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