Tom Johnstone admits he’s considered retirement

Tom Johnstone is one of the most talented wingers in Super League and he’s displayed that over a number of years now, something that has secured him a move to Catalans Dragons this off-season.

Johnstone burst onto the scene in 2015 at Wakefield Trinity, for whom he’s played until this new move, but in spite of having eight seasons under his belt he has just 106 Super League appearances and has surpassed 20 total appearances in just two seasons.

The two seasons that he achieved that feat saw him score an incredible 20 in 25 (2016) and 24 in 24 (2018) but in the four seasons since then he’s totalled 41 games and 27 tries.

There’s clearly no doubt he can put the performances in but for the 27-year-old it’s been a case of remaining healthy, and much of that has been impacted by issues with concussion.

Johnstone has recently been a member of an open discussion regarding concussion, hosted by Stevie Ward and broadcast by Sky Sports.

During the chat he was incredibly open and highlighted the issues our game faces with concussion, but also what his experiences have taught him going forward.

He revealed: “I’ve had a few injuries, things like that, but it’s a different take on it. What happened to me was I just got a blow to the head which seemed like nothing.

“It was just a glance. I got taken off for an HIA, and I knew in myself I wasn’t right. I could barely balance. But I was saying. I’m alright, I’m fine, let me back out. The doctor stepped in and took me out.

“Mentally I probably knew I wasn’t okay and probably shouldn’t have played that game, but I went the default that I can’t let my brothers down, we’ve been training all pre-season, I’ve started the season on fire I need to play this game. I went for a try in the corner and bashed my head. I still don’t remember the 40 minutes of that game.

“For the next 12 weeks, I had a very turbulent ride. I didn’t know what was going on. I had headaches constantly, not being able to do the simplest activities like going for a walk with the Mrs and child or even watching TV. It was a really scary time, and it changed my whole outlook on the game.”

The incident in question came during the 2021 season and it holds a grip over his thoughts and opinions on the game going forward.

“If you’d asked me before the concussions if I had one the week before a Grand Final, would I play? Yes. If you asked today, my answer would probably be no because while it’s all about the now, that experience got me thinking about the long term. I still love it, but I think there needs to be adaptations and changes in the way we look at it.”

Some adaptions are certainly taking place, a particular initiative by the RFL at present is the widespread usage of mouthguards that track the data surrounding blows to the head.

A recent RFL meeting saw Professor Ben Jones discuss the atypical stats surrounding concussion but also what can be learned going forward.

Concussions are recorded in terms of hours, so every 1000 hours two concussions occur which equates to one every other game.

Pairing this knowledge, and future research, with the stats that the impacted mouthguards will offer us in regarding to the G force players take during blows to the head could garner information on types of tackles and collisions that the RFL can stamp out.

Johnstone alluded to the gumshields during a heart-on-sleeve style monologue where he hinted that he’d even considered hanging the boots up aged just 27, something host Stevie Ward did.

“I had a sit down with my partner and said ‘do I want to do this anymore?’. Even when I was going into the next game after being cleared of the concussion, I was going into it, questioning whether it was worth the risk of it happening again. Maybe getting to 50 or 60 and having problems.

“I came to the conclusion that I’m going to be messed up from rugby and have issues, but as long as I’m smart as I can be with it, take my time, work with it, and if the game moves forward with gumshields and other aspects and if I’m given the right information and have it there you make the decision it may happen then it’s on to you.”

On the current mentality of concussions among players he highlighted the need for change.

“It’s looked at as a bad thing. How boring is this week going to be because I can’t join in? Probably looking at it now, I should have taken it upon myself to say no, I had headaches and stuff, but that’s what you say. Yes, we’re tough, but we need to be smarter as well, e might not be concussed from that hit, but when we’re saying lads are getting up to 10gs going through their head, you’ve got to think how important is you playing next week compared to getting a second concussion.”

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