TOM JOHNSTONE has won a mental battle as well as a physical one to become England’s try-scoring debut sensation.
The Wakefield winger bagged a hat-trick in his first appearance in a national jersey in Wednesday’s 44-6 win over France.
Boss Wayne Bennett admits he has a future on the flank as he looks towards the 2021 World Cup in this country.
But it is a far cry from the 23-year-old wondering if he had a future at all after suffering a serious knee injury that cost him a call-up for last year’s mid-season Test against Samoa.
And he has revealed he called on the help of the Sporting Chance organisation as he stared into the abyss.
Johnstone, who had nine months out and a scare at the end of the Super League season, said: “It was really bad at times. I spent a lot of time walking the dog – he was my best friend and looked after me.
“We would go for walks for up to three hours at times just so I could get away from everything and clear my head.
“I got in touch with Stuart Dickens, Wakefield’s welfare manager, and he put me on to someone at Sporting Chance.
“That opened my eyes and helped me massively to find a way to sort out the demons in my head.
“It enabled me to concentrate on the positives and scoring a hat-trick on my England debut, you couldn’t write this stuff.”
Bennett admitted he was impressed with Johnstone but insisted Jermaine McGillvary and Tommy Makinson are in contention for wing spots for the series against New Zealand, which starts in Hull next Saturday.
But Johnstone hopes his performance gets him in, adding: “I feel like I’ve put my foot in the door and staked a real claim for that spot.
“Hopefully Wayne sees what I’ve done, is happy with it, and he might give me a chance.
“He said I was man of the game, gave me a handshake and said ‘well done’. I’m really happy with that.
“He’s given me no indication about next week yet, though. He just reviewed the game and said he was really happy with the boys’ first-half performance.
“I feel like I’m finally where I want to be. I put in a lot of hard work over the past eighteen months and I had some real low times.
“It’s a massive reward for everything I’ve been through and has made it all worthwhile but we all know it’s going to be a major step up against New Zealand, so we’re going to have to go up a few gears as well.
“We’re going to have to put in a stronger performance.”