Alex Johnston has dedicated his South Sydney try record to the fans who helped him stay at the famed NRL club.
Johnston scored a hat-trick in Saturday night’s historic 44-18 win over the Wests Tigers as the Souths came back from 12-0 down, overcoming a half-time deficit for the first time this season.
The result ensured the Rabbitohs would enter the State of Origin period in the top eight, while increasing the pressure on the Wests Tigers and coach Michael Maguire.
Cameron Murray also cruised to victory unscathed after returning from a shoulder injury and he will be named to Brad Fittler’s NSW squad on Sunday.
But the native round man will forever be the man with Torres Strait Island heritage, as Johnston surpassed former teammate Nathan Merritt’s record of 146 tries.
“I still pinch myself,” Johnston said nearly an hour after full time.
“I don’t want to play in other colors. Score 147 in red and green. I’m just speechless at the moment.
“What a night to do it, I don’t think I’ll be taking that aboriginal sweater off for a week.”
Nor was it lost on Johnston that he might well have been kicked out of Redfern two years ago, if not for a petition calling on Rabbitohs management to change their tune and sign it again.
“I almost wasn’t there. There was a petition going around and a lot of fans signed up,” Johnston said.
“I’d like to think the top dogs saw it and thought we should keep this guy.
“I think I still have a lot of tries to go, knock on wood, to pay back (the fans).”
At just 27 and with years ahead of him, there’s every chance Johnston could one day surpass Ken Irvine’s record of 212 career tries.
But Johnston urged the media on Saturday night not to mock him, happy to settle for being the league’s oldest club’s top try scorer for now.
Going into the night tied for second alongside Benny Wearing, Johnston got his first when Cody Walker and Campbell Graham combined to put him in space.
He leveled Merritt when Souths sent the ball in on the left in the 48th minute, after Jaxson Paulo had made a crucial one-on-one on Brent Naden.
And when Graham landed for Johnston to score his 147th, the Rabbitohs erupted.
“I knew right away, and Campbell knew it too,” Johnston said.
“He started shouting ‘history, history, record’.”
Graham’s performance was also timely, in a last-minute shot for the Blues’ vacant center shirt with Latrell Mitchell and Tom Trbojevic both injured.
Walker claimed two tries before Paulo put the icing on the cake with an 82-yard interception effort in the final minutes.
Maguire and the Tigers are down to just three wins from their first 12 games.
Maguire’s men looked good for the first half before collapsing 32 points, but the game turned upside down when the Souths weren’t called up after Taane Milne struck in with the Tigers on offense in the 44th minute.
From then on, the Tigers barely got back into good ball position, their defense surrendered obediently, and the season went downhill even further.
“These are huge moments. They change the momentum,” Maguire said.
“You have to be able to handle these.”