THE new Super League season is still in its embryonic stage yet arguably one of the most fascinating battles is already upon us.
For all its obvious derby quality, Wakefield Trinity hosting Huddersfield Giants on Friday night might not ordinarily have sprung out as a glittering fixture to mark in the calendar.
However, it will see two of the sport’s most exciting talents go head-to-head – Wakefield tyro winger Tom Johnstone and prolific England international Jermaine McGillvary, an undoubted star of the recent World Cup.
It is the sort of mouth-watering match-up that would surely have Eddie Hearn – the boxing promoter who, intriguingly, spent Monday afternoon talking business with RFL heavyweights Ralph Rimmer and Mark Foster at The Waldorf Hilton Hotel in London – salivating with ideas.
Johnstone, the German-born 22-year-old raised in Leeds, should really still be easing his way back into action after seeing last season ruined by a knee cruciate injury.
Remarkably, though, he marked his first Super League game in eight months with a brilliant hat-trick in Trinity’s campaign opener at Hull KR and followed up with another score in Saturday’s 16-14 victory in Perpignan, Chris Chester’s side maintaining their 100 per cent start with a third successive victory.
With his pace, power and brilliant finishing prowess, it is easy to see why Johnstone was on England coach Wayne Bennett’s radar before his knee crumbled against Catalans last April.
McGillvary, indeed, is a big fan of the rising star’s quality and told The Yorkshire Post: “He is an outstanding player.
“From what I saw last season he has everything – quick, strong, he’s an England/Great Britain player of the now and the future.
“He’s an exciting player. He’s always tough to play against – I’ve played him a couple of times now – but to watch him is really enjoyable as well.
He is an outstanding player. From what I saw last season he has everything – quick, strong, he’s an England/Great Britain player of the now and the future.Jermaine McGillvary on Wakefield Trinity
“I saw him in that Catalans game and the way he finished off his third try really was outstanding. I’m looking forward to playing him.”
Although the uncapped Johnstone will have his work cut out to dislodge McGillvary – shortlisted for the 2017 Golden Boot as the world’s greatest player after his exploits in the World Cup – or veteran Leeds Rhinos winger Ryan Hall in the England line-up, the Huddersfield player will not become complacent.
The 29-year-old said: “He’ll definitely be challenging us; he’s that good and could be playing now. He wouldn’t look out of place in an England shirt, that’s for sure; it’s going to be a good battle Friday and I’m looking forward to it.”
McGillvary – who scored seven tries as England reached the World Cup final, losing out to Australia – has just returned from his own less serious knee injury.
He made his first appearance since that Brisbane decider in December when Huddersfield lost 26-12 to St Helens on Friday.
He said: “It was a bit nerve-wracking as I’d not played for a while and not trained much either so it was more a ‘get out there and test how the knee is’ situation. It felt really good.
“I was still a bit rusty, of course, but it’s all good and I’m looking forward to getting a bit more form as the weeks go by.”
Huddersfield, who narrowly scraped into the top-eight last term, have just one win from their opening three games although they are showing signs of getting their act together and could have fit-again second-row Tom Symonds back on Friday.
Asked where he feels they are, McGillvary insisted: “I don’t know. We could talk all day and talk a lot of rubbish to you.
“But at the end of it, we have to go out and do it. I don’t think we’ve put in a complete performance yet. I know we won against Warrington, but it wasn’t a complete display. We need to talk less and go out putting some actions in as, at the moment, it’s not been the best of starts for us.”
McGillvary was pleased to see Bennett, the England coach, re-sign for another two years last week.
The Australian takes charge for the three-Test series here against New Zealand this autumn and also the historic mid-season game against the Kiwis in Denver, USA on June 23 as well as taking Great Britain duties when the Lions tour Australia in 2019. McGillvary said: “He’s probably the best coach in the history of the game.
“He’s been good for us and if you ask any player involved in that England set-up over the last two years they’d all speak highly of him even if they’d not played.
“He’s that sort of guy; you want to play for him and he teaches you a lot. I’m happy he’s stayed on and, hopefully, he can get a good young group in the next couple of squads and build us up for the next World Cup as we need to go one better than last time.”