HAVING needed to undergo two knee reconstructions over the last three years, it is no surprise Wakefield Trinity winger Tom Johnstone is eagerly anticipating the start of the new Super League season.
The prolific wideman, who scored a hat-trick on his England debut in 2018, has been declared fit to resume playing again as Trinity face Hull KR in Danny Brough’s testimonial on Sunday.
It has been an arduous road back for Johnstone – both mentally and physically – as he dealt with the blow of suffering two such extensive injuries in such a short space of time.
He missed most of 2017 after rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee but came back in style the following year, making the Super League Dream Team and being called up by Wayne Bennett for that Test bow against France.
However, Johnstone, one of the competition’s most exciting players, suffered the same injury to the left knee in a game at Hull FC last March and has spent the last 10 months sidelined.
Still, all that will be forgotten when he runs out against Rovers for Chris Chester’s side this weekend.
“I am buzzing,” the 24-year-old told The Yorkshire Post.
“I’d been struggling a bit this pre-season. Not from the knee but a bit of shin splints from trying to get the loading back into the legs.
“I’ve graduated back into training these last few weeks, though, and I spoke to Chezzy.
“He told me I’d get a run-out this week and see how I get on.
“I’ll play in this and then look towards other friendlies later down the line.
“We’ll use this as testing the water a little bit.
“I’m really excited to get back out there after another nine months sat watching the boys do their thing.”
Everyone in the sport, not least Chester, will be hoping the amiable Leeds-born player can now enjoy an injury-free run and recapture that stellar form of two years ago.
“It has been pretty tough,” conceded Johnstone, who could relaunch his left-edge partnership against KR as centre Bill Tupou also returns from a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
“It got broken up in the middle with probably the best season I’ve had.
“It was hard to take at first as I knew straight away what had happened. It broke me a little bit.
“But I thought, ‘right, we’ve got to get through this.’
“I knew my right leg was better than what it had been before so if I get through this my left leg would be better than what it was before, too.
“That was proven by a machine test that shows the leg strength; they’ve both improved since before I was injured.
“It was pretty tough towards the end, especially the shin splints pulling me out of training when I wanted to be in, but we’re there now and we’re over the back end of it so I’m really happy.”
Wakefield – who narrowly avoided relegation last term after a promising start withered away – will need Johnstone to quickly recapture his best given their other first-choice winger is, ironically, now out for a long spell.
The West Yorkshire club announced this week that Ben Jones-Bishop, the 31-year-old former Leeds Rhinos Grand Final winner, will miss the opening months due to an unspecified medical condition.
Johnstone said: “It is devastating; Bish’ is our best winger defensively by an absolute mile.
“I’ve tried playing that right wing and trust me I didn’t enjoy it. We’ve found somebody who fits the slot and he’s killed it for us year after year.
“It’s devastating to lose him but hopefully he’ll be back towards summer and doing his thing again – and the team will be ready waiting for him.”
Johnstone – who has 67 tries in just 78 games for the club – is confident Trinity can return to the right end of the table in 2020.
“I still put last year down to injuries,” he said, with a crippling injury list badly hurting Wakefield. “As much as people say the people on the pitch didn’t perform, I still believe the injuries definitely plagued the team.
“This year a lot of people are saying we’re going to under-achieve again – I’ve already heard it from a lot of fans and other teams – so for me I just want to go under the radar.
“We just want to push up the table, do our thing and aim for that top-five spot again which we had the years before.”