Bennett relieved Souths held onto Johnston

Alex Johnston touches down for one of his three tries against the Knights.
Alex Johnston touches down for one of his three tries against the Knights.

For a moment on Saturday night, Wayne Bennett had to remind himself that South Sydney nearly let Alex Johnston go.

A hat-trick hero in consecutive NRL matches he may be, but the club only made a decision to keep the 26-year-old at the club late last season.

"I reminded myself of it tonight when he scored the third try and I thought, 'God, we nearly let this guy go'," Bennett said of Johnston's treble in the 24-10 win over Newcastle.

"He's a 70s, maybe 80s or mid 90s type player where wingers were wingers; they were great finishers and he's as good as you're going to see as a finisher.

"That try, the third one he got, was quite remarkable.

"He had to adjust the ball in his hands on the way to the tryline when you've got all that stuff going through your head and knowing what he has to do to get the ball down.

"The rest of them looked like he was on the treadmill; he just wasted them with his speed.

"Someone asked me how fast he is. Well, he's only as fast as your chaser. You won't catch him, he'll just get a little bit faster as you get closer to him."

Johnston has now scored 15 tries from 13 games this season and 121 in his seven-season career.

With plenty of football left ahead of him, Ken Irvine's all-time first-grade career record of 212 tries has been mentioned.

But Bennett was having none of it.

"You (media) always get ahead of yourselves. It depends on what types of players he continues to play with; there's a whole lot of issues involved," he said.

"He's got a wonderful five-eighth and a wonderful fullback to give him great ball and Adam Reynolds is part of all that.

"They give him the opportunity to use those wonderful skills he's got."

Australian Associated Press