Tom Johnstone’s game-winning brace of tries for England against Tonga on Sunday were five years in the making, with the winger now hopeful of nailing down a spot in Shaun Wane’s side.
When the teamsheets were sent to print at the Totally Wicked Stadium, they confirmed a first international appearance for the flier for just over five years, almost exactly to the day.
His only previous cap – picked up in October 2018 – saw Johnstone grab a hat-trick of tries in a thumping 44-6 victory over France at the Leigh Sports Village.
Down the East Lancs half a decade later, he didn’t quite match that feat, but couldn’t – and didn’t try to – hide his pride in getting himself back into the England reckoning.
A stunning return to the England fold
The 28-year-old’s inclusion in Wane’s 24-man squad comes on the back of a year which has seen him take Super League by storm with Catalans Dragons.
Finishing as the joint top-scorer in the division, his scoring ability played a big part in taking the Dragons all the way to Old Trafford and the Grand Final, and earned him a nomination for the Man of Steel.
With the scores level at 12-12 in the first of a three-match test series against Tonga, he crossed for the two all-important tries which took England 10 points ahead, and despite a late consolation from the visitors, England clung on for the win.
Beaming post-match in St Helens, the former Wakefield Trinity ace said: “It was great. Just wearing the jersey was something I’ve been aiming for, for five years.
“It was pretty special, but I wouldn’t say they were match-winning tries.
“I think everyone did it, like Mikey (Lewis), they’ve done all the hard work and I just put the ball down and get the glory at the end.
“They (Tonga) get you side-by-side and try to hurt you a little bit, but that’s my job week in, week out, to take the tough carries. It’s just another team, and that’s what I’ve got to carry.”
Tom Johnstone vows to take England opportunity with both hands
Johnstone was born in Germany, where his dad was in the Army, and also has Scottish heritage. He’s lived in England from a very young age however, and has only ever had eyes on representing the Lions.
The towering winger’s first England cap came amidst an eight-year stint to begin his senior career with Wakefield, who he scored 87 tries in 116 appearances for before moving over to Perpignan ahead of this season.
Having taken his 2023 tally up to 30 four-pointers in 30 games with his brace yesterday, he’s got his sights set on securing his national spot on a more permanent basis.
The 28-year-old added: “Pretty special (to score the tries), but it was more in the anthem that got me a little bit looking up at my family and everyone who has been there for me over the past few years. It was a really special moment to me.
“I always want to be starting for England, and to get the opportunity, I want to try to take it with both hands and keep going with it.”