David Clegg Continues His Introduction Of New Signings With Speedster Greg Johnson
Not only has Salford’s latest speedster, Greg Johnson, made an impact in rugby league last season with Batley, he had earlier made a similar impact in both football and rugby union. He had, in fact, at the age of thirteen, been forced to choose between joining Huddersfield Town’s Youth setup or continuing, as he had been doing, in rugby union. The significant demands of each meant that committing to both quite simply was not an option.
It had been to football that Greg, as a six year old had been first introduced when he joined West End AFC, in his native Huddersfield, for a twelve month period. His father, however, had played rugby and suggested that he give that a try, which he did with Huddersfield YMCA Rugby Union Club. He quickly found that he really liked the game, settled into the team as a fullback or centre, and stayed there right up to the age of eighteen. Little wonder then that the attempts of Huddersfield Town, to lure him back to soccer, came to naught.
His decision to remain in rugby soon brought its own rewards as he was invited to become a member of the U14s West Yorkshire RU squad, and then over a three year period he progressed to play a total of around twenty five games with the full Yorkshire team at U15, 16, and 17 levels. His Union career culminated in 2007 when he was selected to join a month’s tour of Canada with the North of England representative side.
Had it not been for the intervention of a friend involved with Huddersfield Giants, Greg’s talents might have been lost to rugby league, entirely. His friend’s invitation to go along for trials with the Giants quickly led to his being signed up after only a couple of games. His change of code, in 2008, simultaneously led to a change of position. Greg had continued throughout his career fluctuating between fullback and centre, but upon joining the Giants his unfamiliarity with the game itself made it sensible for him to move out to the wing, where not only was he shielded from the amount of decision-making associated with other positions, but also his pace could be exploited to the full.
By 2011, his talents had been noted by Wakefield coach, John Kear, during a pre-season friendly between the two clubs, in which Greg score two tries. With first team opportunities somewhat limited at Huddersfield, he accepted an offer to join the Wildcats, for whom he played thirteen matches, making his debut in their home fixture against Warrington. As if that were not daunting enough, the challenge was made all the greater with the presence of television cameras. He wryly smiles as he remembers his first involvement in the game when he was singled out by Lee Briers with a high bomb. It was one he just had to take, but such was the pressure of the moment, that his nerves got the better of him. Credit to him, however, he put that setback behind him and was well satisfied with his contribution over the remainder of the game.
When John Kear was appointed as coach to Batley Bulldogs, he soon made an approach to Greg to move across to Mount Pleasant to join him. Although this meant dropping down a division, he felt that he could further his career better by playing regularly week in week out, and this proved very much to be the case with his coming to the attention, among others, of Salford Head Coach, Brian Noble, during his presentation work on Premier Sport.
Brian had been aware of Greg over an eighteen month period and quickly realised that he had some quite exceptional physical attributes, including considerable pace and really clever footwork near the line. His first reaction upon seeing Greg, in fact, was almost disbelief that the lad was playing in the Championship when he clearly had Super League talent. Upon meeting up with him, Brian was totally impressed with his desire to succeed, coupled with his eagerness to make up for lost time, and so went about bringing him to join the Red Devils. Although he already has two Super League wingers at his disposal, Brian is fully aware of the need for strength in depth to cover eventualities during the season, and is quite sure that Greg will not only feature but that having done so could be very difficult to dislodge.
Greg, with a number of Super League offers available to him at the end of his time with Batley, gratefully accepted Salford’s offer of a two year contract. With all the developments on the recruitment front that were progressing, he says that he felt both honoured and privileged to have been singled out for inclusion.
After three weeks with the club, he claims to have found it a really happy, friendly, but focused environment. Despite being part-time with the Bulldogs, he had, very sensibly, kept his fitness levels up to peak with the help of friends from Huddersfield Giants, and has, consequently, been able to cope with the higher levels once more required at Super League level. Indeed, he tells me that he is thoroughly enjoying the pre-season conditioning, under the direction of Richard Hunwick, who, he says is endeavouring to make all the training both rugby orientated and interesting.
As for his position within the squad, Greg fully expects the wing berths to be taken initially by established Super League stars, Francis Meli and Danny Williams, but is determined to work hard in training and battle to get himself into contention for when an opportunity arises.
Next Time, David Clegg Spreads The ‘Welcome Aboard’ Net More Widely, Speaking With Head Coach Brian Noble As He Prepares For His First Full Season In Charge With The Red Devils