Alex Johnston once played the role of a young Greg Inglis in an NRL television commercial and on Friday night the South Sydney rookie again emulated the absent superstar when he raced 65 metres from dummy half to score the decisive try in another courageous win by the injury-hit Rabbitohs team.
Rabbitohs too good for wounded Tigers
Alex Johnston and Kyle Turner scored braces as the Rabbitohs thumped the Tigers on Friday night.
Just six nights after overcoming injuries to Inglis, centres Dylan Walker and Bryson Goodwin and utility Jason Clark to beat the Warriors 34-18 in Perth, Souths were again reduced to just one player on the bench after losing George Burgess (ankle), Joe Picker (concussion) and Kirisome Auva'a (ankle).
With Inglis, Ben Te'o and Chris McQueen on State of Origin duty for Queensland and Walker, Goodwin and Joel Reddy sidelined by injury, Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire called on Johnston, Auva'a and fellow young gun Kyle Turner out wide and the trio repaid his faith with starring roles in an historic night which also featured the second appearance of all four Burgess brothers in the same match.
The only other occasion on which the Burgess quartet had played together was also against the Tigers in last year's round-25 clash at Allianz Stadium, won 32-18 by Souths.
The Rabbitohs again won, 32-10, but this time it was the performance of the team's rookies that most excited South Sydney fans in the 20,721 crowd.
While he may not have morphed into Inglis as a shirtless Johnston did after catching a bomb and scoring a try in the 2009 NRL commercial, the 19-year-old winger bought the ANZ Stadium crowd to their feet when he burst out of dummy half, pushed off Wests marker Blake Austin and ran 65 metres to the tryline just three minutes after half-time.
Austin had just scored the Tigers' first try of the match after Turner had been bundled into touch from a short kick-off by Pat Richards to start the second half, but Johnston noticed Tigers fullback James Tedesco was not in position after chasing an attacking kick from Luke Brooks and took advantage with his dummy half run.
The try effectively sealed the win for the Rabbitohs, catapulting them into the top four. Johnston also scored in the first half after the Tigers allowed a John Sutton bomb to bounce and Sam Burgess tapped the ball back to Issac Luke, who passed to the unmarked winger.
Turner, who played in the centres, also scored two tries and he was involved in three tackles in which Wests players were bundled over the sideline to give the Rabbitohs possession.
Sam Burgess had another big game in his final season for the club and was instrumental in Souths' other try after putting Nathan Merritt over in the 54th minute, but there was concern about the fitness of brother George after he limped up the tunnel midway through the second half with an ankle injury.
Thomas and Luke Burgess also played but the quartet did not get on the field together as they did last year. However, they did create another piece of history as the only set of four brothers to play in the same side more than once. The only other set of four brothers to feature in the same team, the Normans from Annandale in 1910, played together just once.
It was also only the fourth time that four Englishmen have been in the same side in a premiership match.
After the match, South Sydney coach Michael Maguire said Johnston's second try was the turning point.
"It was a huge play, a turnaround play like that," he said.
"That's the way Alex is, he looks like he is running on the spot but he is actually going really quickly.
"It changed the momentum of the game - they obviously had a bit of control the Wests Tigers and he turned it around."
Wests Tigers coach Mick Potter echoed his counterpart's sentiments.
"We were right back in the hunt, six points adrift, there is plenty of time left and that just breaks your heart," Potter said.
"The fundamentals, we can't have a team just running up behind our ruck like that.
"Teddy (Tedesco) was winded, he was on his way back and we didn't have a fullback at that particular time."
Joe Picker was taken from the field with concussion in the first half, while Auva'a also suffered an ankle injury in the second half and failed to finish the game.
Wests Tigers utility Dene Halatau, who was making his NRL return to the club with whom he won a grand final in 2005, was also taken off the field having suffered a concussion.