PROLIFIC Tom Johnstone is making a habit of scoring spectacular hat-tricks.
The Wakefield Trinity winger secured his third treble of the season last night to help underpin his club’s win over Challenge Cup victors Catalans Dragons in a fiery encounter.
With his mix of power, pace and no little dexterity, the 23-year-old showed just why he is in contention for an England debut.
That said, the 23-year-old left Belle Vue nursing a worrying cheekbone injury after a collision late on with Sam Moa. Wakefield coach Chris Chester hopes it is not season-ending but they are awaiting further checks.
Last night’s haul took Johnstone to 24 Super League tries for the season, level with the competition’s leading scorer Ben Barba, and Catalans had no answer.
In the final exchanges, tempers frayed on more than one occassion with ex-Wakefield prop Mika Simon and Trinity captain Jacob Miller red-carded in the 77th minute after the second brawl of the evening.
That occurred just moments after Wakefield prop Craig Huby had returned from the sin-bin, his dangerous tackle causing the first flare-up.
Even after the final hooter, heated players still had to be dragged apart as referee Scott Mikalauskas struggled to keep any control.
But Wakefield – who rise up to fifth – had stamped their authority over the game long before those ugly final scences.
Indeed, when Johnstone climbed high to claim Miller’s kick and touch down for his third in the 49th minute, Chester’s side had already eased 34-12 clear.
That meant, even following David Mead’s response and – after Huby’s yellow card – Brayden Williame crossed again for the French visitors, there was never really any fear of them losing.
Three quickfire tries in just nine minutes before the break helped turn the game.
Trinity were clinical during that period and created some classy play, not least from Johnstone. He did well to stoop low and gather Miller’s long pass but still had work to do, diving over almost in the same movement to squeeze in at the corner.
It looked like Johnstone would celebrate his hat-trick in the next set only for Mead’s fingertip to cut-out Miller’s fired-out pass.
It only delayed the inevitable, however; Wakefield gained the scrum and, soon after, Justin Horo sucked in defenders before offloading for Tyler Randell to scurry between the posts.
Next, it was Pauli Pauli’s turn to rampage through the middle of bewildered French defenders. The giant forward offloaded in his own half and, a few sweeping movements later, Reece Lyne appeared on Trinity’s left to cross for another well-worked try.
Ryan Hampshire struck an upright with his conversion attempt – he managed just three from seven kicks – but, at 30-12, the damage was already done.
Initially, Catalans had been competitive despite fit-again hooker Kyle Wood breaking clear early on for Hampshire and Scott Grix to exchange passes and send Matty Ashurst over.
Steve McNamara’s side responded swiftly when Lucas Albert’s smart pass put Benjamin Jullien over untouched in the 14th minute, Josh Drinkwater slotting the first of his three goals.
Johnstone hit back with his first effort after some impressive play from Joe Arundel, the centre getting a rare chance with Ben Jones-Bishop out of the side.
Hampshire then produced a stunning solo try. From 10m inside his own half, the diminutive scrum-half accelerated away down centrefield before turning Lance Todd Trophy winner Tony Gigot inside and out at full-back.
Iain Thornley benefitted for the French as he latched onto Drinkwater’s cut-out pass, the Australian half-back’s conversion seeing his side just 16-12 behind in the 25th minute, but then Trinity hit them with that flurry.
Wakefield: Grix, Tupou, Lyne, Arundel, Johnstone, Miller, Hampshire, Huby, Wood, England, Ashurst, Batchelor, Crowther. Substitutes: Randell, Pauli, Horo, Hirst.
Catalans Dragons: Gigot, Tierney, Mead, Wiliame, Thornley, Albert, Drinkwater, Simon, Da Costa, Moa, Jullien, Garcia, Bird. Substitutes: Baitieri, Belmas, Goudemand, Edwards.
Referee: Scott Mikalauskas (RFL)