Tom Johnstone targets starting spot for England

Last Updated May 05 2018, 09:32Rugby League
Tom Johnstone: Flying start to new season
Tom Johnstone: Flying start to new season

Tom Johnstone says it was "mind-blowing" rubbing shoulders with his boyhood hero Ryan Hall at an England squad session but that will not stop him trying to wrest the number five jersey from his back.

Tom Johnstone says it was "mind-blowing" rubbing shoulders with his boyhood hero Ryan Hall at an England squad session but that will not stop him trying to wrest the number five jersey from his back.

The 22-year-old Wakefield winger is one of three uncapped players in England coach Wayne Bennett's elite training squad hoping to make the team to play New Zealand in Denver on June 23.

Leeds favourite Hall has been a fixture on the England left wing for the last eight years but Johnstone is striving to get the nod ahead of him for the trip to Colorado and is hoping to catch the eye in Sunday's only Super League fixture against Hull KR.

"It was a real eye-opener for me," Johnstone said of the squad's first get-together in Bury. "I was really nervous going into it.

"It was really awkward but, once I got in there, everyone was really welcoming.

"It was mental being next to people like Ryan Hall because I used to go to Leeds games with my granddad when I was younger.

"To be named alongside him in the England squad is mind-blowing, I'm lost for words even now.

"It's a challenge I want to grasp with both hands. Everyone wants to play for their country."

Johnstone was called up by England after starting the season with a hat-trick of tries in Wakefield's opening-round win over Hull KR at Craven Park.

That got his career back on track after he missed the second half of the 2017 season with ruptured knee ligaments but he was dropped from the team by Trinity coach Chris Chester a month ago after suffering a dip in form.

The timing was unfortunate as he sought to impress Bennett in the run-up to Denver but it was nothing compared to the desolation he felt during his six-month injury lay-off when he became so depressed that he went to see Sporting Chance.

"Last year was a big learning curve for me, so missing two games is nothing like missing 20," he said.

"You never want to get pulled out of the team for playing poorly and I was a bit down about it.

"I'm wanting to play the best I can to get the nod for England and I'm thinking 'if I'm not in the team, how am I supposed to show what I can do?'

"I was really frustrated but it gave me a couple of weeks to try and improve the best I can."

Pauli Pauli and Ryan Hampshire were also dropped after Wakefield's home defeat by Leeds but Johnstone took the decision on the chin and his response impressed his coach enough to earn a recall for last week's game against Castleford.

"Tom is close to being an international player," Chester said. "There were just parts of his game we weren't too pleased about.

"I know it's a very tough position to defend but on the wing you've got to make your one-on-one tackles and he missed a couple against Leeds.

"He responded really well. He had a couple of weeks off and put a little bit more size on. Hopefully it was the kick up the backside that Tom needed."

Trinity will be aiming to complete the double over the Robins to avoid being dragged into a relegation dogfight.

"It's a massive game," Johnstone said. "Both teams aren't where they want to be and both have been losing by real tight margins so it's a game of desire at the weekend, we've just got to want it more than them."

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