Cowboys target shock fullback replacement
NORTH Queensland are preparing to poach try-scoring sensation Alex Johnston from South Sydney as a shock replacement for sacked Ben Barba.
Johnston is reportedly unsettled at Redfern and the Cowboys are desperate for a fullback on the eve of the season after Barba was axed from the club on Friday over domestic violence allegations.
Johnston, 24, has been telling Souths for more than a year he wants to play fullback but new coach Wayne Bennett has no plans for the former Australian star to wear the No.1 jumper.
Johnston started his career on the wing but has started his past 28 matches at fullback.
Superstar Greg Inglis will be South Sydney first-string fullback, while rising Corey Allen looms as his back-up and long-term replacement.
Braidon Burns, who re-signed with Souths until the end of 2021 on Friday, is another option. Burns has impressed Bennett during the off-season.
It leaves Johnston on the wing - but he wants fullback money.
Then Rabbitohs coach Anthony Seibold outlined the looming issue when he wrote to Souths boss Blake Solly in late November about discussions Bennett had been having with Johnston while still in charge of the Broncos.
"Alex spoke to me today that Wayne Bennett contacted him regarding his playing future for 2019 and his possible position change to the wing if Greg Inglis wants to play fullback,'' Seibold told Solly.
Souths hierarchy have an enormous wrap on Johnston's finishing ability but there are some doubts over his defence.
Shifting Johnston - who has scored 79 tries in 107 games for Souths - may allow Souths to retain Robert Jennings.
Jennings was ready to be moved on by the Rabbitohs but may now win a late reprieve should Johnson depart.
Johnston will secure more money than his current deal with a move to Townsville and get to play his preferred fullback. And he would still come relatively cheap for North Queensland, who don't have too many other options.
Some close to Johnston think this could be his last chance to secure fullback money elsewhere.
The Cowboys are considering shifting Te Maire Martin to fullback if unable to lure Johnston north. That would leave a spot for young gun Jake Clifford in the halves.
North Queensland are in dire trouble given the side trained purely with Barba at fullback throughout the entire off season.
The Cowboys haven't officially contacted Souths as yet but Johnston's move is gathering momentum.
Cowboys coach Paul Green and Souths general manager of football Shane Richardson are close friends.
Should North Queensland miss out on Johnston, it means Jennings may be forced out of Redfern.
Barba allegedly attacked his partner and mother of their four daughters, Ainslie Currie, over the Australia Day weekend at Townsville Casino.
Barba, 29, was on his final chance in the NRL, having returned from England to sign with North Queensland.
Barba won the Man of Steel award while playing for St Helens last year.
He had been chosen for the Indigenous All Stars to play the Maori All Stars in Melbourne on February 15, but has been replaced by Bevan French.
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