THE manner in which he sweeps past opponents could be likened to a “whirlwind” but that is also how Wakefield Trinity Wildcats’ young winger Tom Johnstone describes his stunning start to 2016.
He has scored six tries in nine appearances, including three man-of-the-match appearances, and such has been his rapier thrusts and fine finishing, that there is already talk about a potential England call-up.
That may be a little premature for the player, who does not turn 21 until August, but there is little doubting his innate talent.
The 95m effort he created of his own accord during the win over Huddersfield Giants on Good Friday, beating four defenders from almost on his own line before accelerating clear, has to be seen to be believed.
But then, to show he isn’t just all the flash stuff, there was the try-saving tackles on Zak Hardaker and Jamie Jones-Buchanan that head coach Chris Chester described as Easter Monday’s “match-winner” at defending champions Leeds Rhinos.
A hat-trick a week ago as Wakefield defeated Salford 32-18, a third successive win in just nine days, leaves everyone at Belle Vue, for once, actually looking forward to tomorrow’s visit from giants Wigan Warriors.
“This season’s just been a complete and utter whirlwind, if I’m being honest,” admitted Johnstone.
“I came in for the first game of the year and probably had the worst game I’ve ever had in a Wakefield shirt.
“After that I had a week out, dropped down and played for the under-19s.
“Thankfully I played alright there and managed to get a bit of confidence back in my game and since I’ve broken back into the first-team I haven’t really looked back.
“These past few weeks I’ve managed to get some good ball, take the most of my chances and put in some decent performances.”
That is a huge understatement from the player, who hails from the same Stanningley club in Leeds as Jamie Peacock and Jones-Buchanan but was born in Germany where his father served in the army.
Nine tries in 13 games last term, having only debuted at tomorrow’s opponents last March, saw Trinity sensibly sign him on a four-year contract in December.
Wildcats chairman Michael Carter turned down a fee from a rival then and you sense further clubs must already be looking – is there a finer Wakefield academy product since Gareth Ellis was sold to Leeds Rhinos in 2004? – but the word is that it would take an obscene figure for the club to even contemplate business.
Johnstone conceded: “I’m not great with all the spotlight and attention.
“It’s all been a bit mad the way things have snowballed so quickly. My name was getting mentioned a bit last year which was strange enough, but nothing quite like this.
“The boys are ribbing me and saying all sorts, but I’m just trying to keep my head down and focussed on helping Wakefield do well.
“I’m definitely trying to distance all this England talk.
“I don’t think about that at all because there’s so many good wingers in front of me and on merit. We’ll see what happens in the future but right now, my sole concern is Wakefield.”
And what of Wakefield? They have been revitalised under Chester, the head coach who hails from the city and, after Brian Smith’s sudden resignation last month, took over just three weeks after being removed himself from the Hull KR job. Trinity had won just once under Smith and looked destined for another fight at the wrong end of Super League where they finished bottom last term.
But Johnstone said: “Things are a lot different since Chezzy came in a few weeks ago.
I remember one of the first things he talked about was how capable this group was of playing well, and he’d do his best to instil some belief into us to get playing.
“Everyone was on a bit of a downer at the time and feeling like we were down on our luck, but once we got the win against Huddersfield, the first of this run we’re on, things just snowballed from there: confidence, belief, everything. We’re loving playing under him.”
Yet Wigan, of course, will present their biggest challenge yet even if they are without a raft of first-teamers.
“I think a win this Sunday would show that this isn’t just a fluke or it isn’t just a little run,” said Johnstone.
“It could show we’re a really good side. We’ve had a great Easter period and victory here will show that we’re a team to be reckoned with that opposition sides shouldn’t look forward to playing.
“They don’t really get much bigger than playing Wigan in front of our own fans.
“It’s going to be a really tough test for us; there’ll be a few nerves because I made my debut against Wigan away and it wasn’t the best game, so I don’t have the best memories of it all.
“I’m looking forward to the test though, and so are the boys.”