Rugby League: Johnson seizes Salford chance

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NO ONE is better placed than Mark Johnson to gauge the credentials of the two Super League relegation candidates who meet at the Willows this afternoon. The South African wing was a regular for Hull last season until he was told that he did not figure in their plans for this year.

He moved to Salford, only to find that he did not seem to figure in their plans either. "For the first nine matches, I just wasn't picked," he said. "I honestly couldn't tell you why. Nothing was ever said."

The turning point for Johnson has come with the departure of the Salford coach, Andy Gregory, who went to the trouble of signing him only then to leave him languishing in the reserves.

Since then, Johnson has figured in all three matches and scored four tries, taking him past the milestone of 100 in English rugby, largely accrued during productive spells at London and Workington.

If he and the equally revitalised Paul Carige can maintain that form, then Salford's hesitant climb away from the foot of the table can only gather momentum. "When we were playing in the Challenge Cup at the start of the season we were getting the ball to the wings and we were winning matches," he said. "We seemed to lose that, but now we're making the ball do the talking again."

Although he still has many friends at Hull, Johnson cannot profess to be surprised by their current plight, which sees them rock bottom in Super League, a point worse off than Salford. "They let players go and the ones they brought in don't seem to have made much impact," Johnson said.

Victory over his old team-mates today could spark a genuine Salford revival, he believes, with matches against Wakefield Trinity and Huddersfield to follow in quick succession. "We can win both of those and that will move us well away from the bottom," Johnson added.

Looking beyond this season and the priority of Super League survival, Johnson has his eyes firmly set on next year's Lincoln Financial Group World Cup, in which he will be one of the cornerstones of the South African side.

Along with Halifax's Jamie Bloem, he is their most experienced player at the top level and a vital part of a demanding group stage that pits them against France, Papua New Guinea and Tonga.