'It hurt to watch': Tom Johnstone spares thought for Wakefield Trinity at end of 'special year'
Johnstone agreed to join Catalans Dragons midway through 2022 and did not play again for boyhood club Wakefield Trinity.
The winger featured just 41 times in his final four seasons with Wakefield due to a spate of injuries, including a second ACL rupture and numerous concussions.
Johnstone opted for a change of environment and lifestyle in the south of France – and has been handsomely rewarded.
The 28-year-old scored 28 tries in 29 games to help Catalans reach the Super League Grand Final, with his performances earning him a place in the Dream Team and a Man of Steel nomination.
Johnstone crowned a memorable season by playing all three games for England in the whitewash of Tonga – but it was not all sunshine and rainbows.
As well as watching Wigan Warriors lift the Super League trophy at Old Trafford, Johnstone saw Wakefield lose their top-flight status after winning just four games all year.
"It hurt to watch," said Johnstone, who scored 87 tries in 115 games for Trinity. "I was hoping they'd do the magic trick of escaping it at the end again.
"I've got a lot of close friends and people that have helped me there and they're happy with rebuilding and starting again.
"I'm sure they'll do it and am looking forward to them coming back a bigger and better team."
The mood around Belle Vue has changed drastically since Matt Ellis took ownership of the club.
Ellis has made a series of shrewd off-field appointments after quickly installing Daryl Powell as head coach and is in the process of building a formidable squad for the Championship.
After being ranked 11th in the indicative phase of IMG's new grading system with the prospect of a higher score next year, the future appears brighter for Wakefield.
"They've restructured," added Johnstone.
"The last few years they've probably been hanging on. When I was there we were saying the same and the club was probably crying out for a bit of change.
"Maybe a couple of us leaving allowed for that to happen and kickstarted the process.
"It's definitely looking like it's going in the right direction. There are a lot of good people there who want to get the club back to where it wants to be."
As Trinity plot their route back to Super League, Johnstone has time to reflect on a momentous campaign.
As well as proving he is one of the best wingers in the country, the Yorkshireman dispelled any long-term fears over his fitness.
"It's been a special year," said Johnstone.
"At the start of it, I just said I wanted to play as many games as I could. I played 32 which is unheard of for me.
"I want to play rugby. It's my job but also my life. It's everything for me, my wife and my kid.
"To be awarded with accolades and get to a Grand Final, which is one thing I've always wanted to do since I was a kid, makes this year extra special."
Johnstone's injury problems saw him drop off the England radar and his exile continued when he missed out on Shaun Wane's squad for the mid-season clash with France.
But he made himself impossible to ignore and finally got the chance to earn his second international cap in the series against Tonga.
"It means a lot more this time," said Johnstone, who scored a debut hat-trick in 2018.
"I made sure I enjoyed it a lot more because I was a young, naive kid five years ago. I probably took it for granted a bit and wasn't good enough to be in the England set-up. I've worked on my game and relished every minute of this series.
"It was a tough ride. I had one goal which was to pull on the England shirt again and I've accomplished that.
"I wouldn't change a thing about what's happened. There have been ups and downs but it's got me where I am."
Securing a place in Wane's 24-man squad was only half the battle with Tommy Makinson, Dom Young – the two wingers at last year's World Cup – and Matty Ashton also named.
But illness and injury paved the way for Johnstone to play all three Tests and he put forward a compelling case for a regular spot, the highlight a double in the opener in St Helens.
"It sounds silly but I just wanted one game," said Johnstone after the 26-4 win at Headingley. "I just wanted to wear that jersey again.
"To get all three is special for me and my family who have been to every game. It's something that I'll sit back with a beer in a few weeks and enjoy.
"We've got some great wingers. Tommy has been nailed on for years and obviously Dom, and then there's Matty and Josh (Thewlis) who came into the squad for the last game.
"I just try to do the best I can and hopefully Waney thinks he can trust me."
After a well-deserved break, Johnstone will get to work on helping Catalans earn their first Super League title following their latest Old Trafford heartbreak.
"I still haven't fully processed that," he said.
"I had two days and then set off to join the camp. It's been a blessing in disguise because I've not really thought about it too much.
"The goal is always to win a Grand Final. For Catalans, being in two in three years isn't good enough; we need to win one."