As one of eight England debutants making their first international appearance against France on Wednesday night, Wakefield Trinity’s Tom Johnstone made undoubtedly the biggest impact of the lot.
Handed the starting jersey at Leigh Sports Village, the 23-year-old crossed for a first half hat-trick as England, led by James Graham, powered to a 38-0 half-time lead. The winger’s first try came as the game approached the ten-minute mark as, following a neat grubber kick from fellow debutant Jamie Shaul, the German-born Johnstone demonstrated his scintillating pace to edge past his opposite winger to touchdown. His second try came minutes later and demonstrated an awareness and alertness which should stand him in good stead for his international career. After a French hand disrupted England’s play as the ball made it’s way out to the left edge, Johnstone got back onside in time to respond to a Jake Connor pat back to collect the ball on the ten metre line, then going on to cross without pressure. The final score of his hat-trick was arguably the pick of the three. Chasing a towering Connor kick, Johnstone leapt higher than anyone else on the pitch to claim the ball and ground amid attention from a French defender. Approaching the series which first choice winger Ryan Hall has been ruled out of due to injury – himself quite a force in the air – Johnstone’s aerial ability could well see him selected on the left flank.
England head coach Wayne Bennett was suitably impressed with the Wakefield man’s performance though did seem to suggest that he may be behind Tommy Makinson in the pecking order. “We’re pretty well covered in those positions, but he’s someone I’ve noticed in the last 12 or 18 months and I’ve been waiting to give him an opportunity,” he explained, adding“he’s played well tonight but Tommy Makinson is a pretty fair player. He’s certainly got a future on the wing for England if it’s not this year.”