Johnston on track for NRL’s mythical 200

Alex Johnston is the NRL’s leading try-scorer in the 2021 with 24 tries from 17 games so far. The 26-year-old has managed to lead the season tally despite missing the last four rounds (19-22). – AAPpic

SOUTH Sydney flier Alex Johnston could end up reaching, and surpassing, the mythical 200 tries mark by the time he retires judging by the rate at which he is currently going.
Only one man has scored 200 or more tries in the top tier of Australian rugby league.
That man was Ken Irvine who scored 212 tries from a total of 236 matches in a career that spanned 15 seasons (1958 to 1973) for North Sydney and Manly-Warringah.
Irvine played on the wing and was noted for his elite speed and finishing ability.
Johnston debuted in 2014 as an 18-year-old and crossed the chalk 21 times from 18 matches in a dream rookie season for the Rabbitohs; he also won an NRL premiership that year.
Since then Johnston’s try-scoring has fluctuated with the left edge winger bagging 20 or more tries only twice in the last six seasons (22 tries in 2017 and 23 last year). His overall try tally as of Round 18, 2021, stands at 130.
AJ (as he is referred to by teammates) has already passed 20 tries in 2021 with his round 18 double against the Canterbury Bulldogs getting him to 24 four-pointers for the season so far; he has three hat-tricks and three doubles from his last six games – he became the first player in the NRL era to register multiple tries in six straight games.
This leaves the man, whose mother has PNG heritage by way of Lumi, West Sepik, all but certain to become the first player to rack up 25 tries in a regular season – and eighth in history – since Nathan Blacklock in 2001.
The 26-year-old has already surpassed his previous best of 23 tries (reached last year) and is on track to break a long standing club record of 28 tries in a season held by winger John Graves who played for the Cardinal and Myrtle (South Sydney) from 1947 to 1952. The most number of tries scored by a player in a season is 38 scored by David Brown who did it in 1935 while playing for Eastern Suburbs.
Provided he remains a Rabbitoh for the foreseeable future, Johnston should also eclipse Nathan Merritt’s (another winger) club record of 154 tries.
Despite his form Johnston has been overlooked by NSW selectors and is yet to play Origin in his eight years in the NRL; he has however played representative football having donned a Kangaroo jersey for a test in 2015 against New Zealand as well as switching allegiance in 2019 for Papua New Guinea playing fullback for the Kumuls against Fiji and in a memorable win over Great Britain.
The downside of AJ’s excellent form (for PNG fans) is that he would have been in contention for a spot in Mal Meninga’s Kangaroos squad for this year’s World Cup had it gone ahead, to the detriment of the Kumuls; the Kumuls could have also missed out on the services of Brisbane’s Xavier Coates, despite his form, potentially seeing two quality operators wear the Green and Gold instead of the Red, Black and Gold.
It would be fair to say that Johnston is the beneficiary of a potent backline led by halves Adam Reynolds and Cody Walker but his blistering pace off the mark, especially over the first 20m to 30m, makes him almost impossible to reel in once he is put into space or has a head start on defences.

Provided he remains a Rabbitoh for the foreseeable future, Johnston should also eclipse Nathan Merritt’s (another winger) club record of 154 tries.
Alex Johnston scoring a try against the Newcastle Knights in the Round 14 fixture at Stadium Australia in Sydney. Johnston scored a hat-trick that day in South Sydney’s 24-10 win. – AAPpic

Coach Wayne Bennett, 71, is under no illusions as to what Johnston is, describing the man who was once told by Rabbitohs management that he was free to look elsewhere for better options in the NRL, as a pure winger.
Thankfully the Souths junior demonstrated his love and loyalty for the club and chose to stay on at Redfern accepting a contract below what he could command at rival clubs.
“He’s what everybody loves, he’s a winger, that’s his pure position,” Bennett said after Johnston’s Round 12 hat-trick against the Parramatta Eels.
“He’s a real winger. You know a lot of guys playing on the wing these days aren’t wingers. That guy (Johnston) is a winger and that’s what you love about him and he makes it look so easy and graceful.”
Bennett, a winger himself in his playing days (1969-1979) in the Brisbane Rugby League for Brothers, Ipswich and Souths, said Johnston was in the same league as Melbourne Storm speedster Josh Addo-Carr who were both “wonderful to watch”.
Addo-Carr, incidentally, who is a year younger than Johnston and has 102 tries from 125 appearances – 23 tries so far this season – is right on AJ’s heels.
But Addo-Carr isn’t the only one in the race to be top try-scorer in 2021. A trio of Manly Sea Eagles are also snapping at the heels of the fleet-footed Johnston with Reuben Garrick (20), Jason Saab (20) and ‘Turbo’ Tom Trbojevic (19) threatening to swoop with two rounds to go.
Despite demonstrating his potency as a try-scorer par excellence Johnston’s tally topping exploits could be impacted by Reynolds’ departure with the veteran half joining the Brisbane Broncos next year.
Johnston’s own preference initially to play fullback, a position he played in the junior grades, has so far been left as something of an afterthought with Bennett saying Johnston has realised where he is most effective.
“I didn’t have to convince him (Johnston). He knew what he was. He can play other positions but that’s his position (wing).”
Johnston is equal 27th on the list of all-time try-scorers in the NRL alongside North Queensland Cowboys great Matt Bowen (2000 to 2013).
Johnston’s rise up the list is inevitable and as he ascends he will meet and leave behind many legends of the sport, names synonymous with speed, ability, longevity and try-scoring prowess.
This includes such nonpareil talents as Anthony Minichiello (139), Steve Renouf (142), Bob Fulton (147), Greg Inglis (149), Terry Lamb (164), Andrew Ettingshausen (165) and Brett Morris (176).
The top three on the list remains rarefied air inhabited by once-in-a-lifetime talents Steve Menzies (180) and Billy Slater (190) in the No.3 and No.2 slots behind Irvine (212).
Given AJ’s strike rate and his age it’s not an impossible task; if he were to end 2021 with 30 tries, he would only have to average a little over 15 tries (15.40) annually for the next six seasons to surpass the record of 212 but just a little under 11 tries (10.66) over the same period to hit 200 and become only the second man to the double century.
Of course, given his current trajectory, he could get to 200 and beyond if he scored 20 tries a season over the next four years. The sky’s the limit.
Barring injury and time consumed outside the game; regular wear and tear on the body; reduced speed with age; and other factors like poor club and personal form, Johnston is destined to finish in the upper the echelons of the all-time scorers list and could end up on top.
That would be no mean feat.

Note: As of the publication of this article Alex Johnston returned to the NRL in Round 23 after injuring his hamstring in the Round 18 match against the Canterbury Bulldogs on Sunday (July 18). He was out for four rounds (Rd 19 to 22). He did not score a try in the Rabbitohs’ 25-12 loss to the Pentrith Panthers.