NRL star broke Kangaroos camp to keep school promise
Six years ago, Alex Johnston plucked up the courage to ask Australia coach Tim Sheens for permission to leave the Kangaroos camp for the night.
He'd double-booked himself, you see.
Smack bang in the middle of the 2014 Four Nations Tournament, Endeavour Sports High School had scheduled its annual rugby league presentation.
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And Johnston had promised his old school that he'd be there.
"We were down at Wollongong, we were only a 45-minute drive away. I asked him (Sheens) if I could have the night off and he said it was all good," Johnston said.
"I like to give back, remembering how much the school gave me footy-wise and making me the person I am."
The Rabbitohs star has attended every rugby league presentation night at Endeavour since he graduated in 2012.
To this day, Johnston looks back fondly on his days representing his school in the NRL Schoolboy Cup.
"We made the Schoolboys Cup final and lost to Patrician Brothers in 2012, but just playing for your mates everyday, striving towards that one goal," Johnston said.
"They say it's the time of your life, and it really is, you're hanging with your mates all day at school and then you get to train with them and play the sport you love within them."
Johnston excelled both on the footy field and in the classroom. He studied HSC biology and chemistry, and achieved an ATAR of 91.8.
"The school was great not just in terms of footy, but as a student. Teachers went out of their way to help me personally" Johnston said.
Parramatta Eels second rower Shaun Lane was in the same year group as Johnston and the pair have shared a strong bond since their schoolboy footy days.
"About 13 of the 17 players in our schoolboy team were at the school since Year 7," Lane said.
"So we grew up together, saw each other develop as people and players, it made us a tight group and it showed in our results on the field.
"These are the best friends in your life, at the time. It's more motivating to play with your best friends, rather than just a few blokes who have been put together because they're all a bit talented."
Lane said that running out with his schoolmates counts as a serious career highlight.
"With the junior reps teams, people verse each other on weekends often, they're not going to be friends at all, they're going to be playing together because they're forced to," Lane said.
"Schoolboy football was the pinnacle of rugby league for me at the time. It was the most enjoyable football that I've probably played. It was my no.1 thing that I was concentrating on pretty much my whole high school life."
Like Johnston, Lane regularly attends Endeavour rugby league presentation nights and has kept contact with the school's current and former coaches.
"They have a raffle, I used to be prolific winner of the raffle, I like to go back and donate a bit of clothing for it now," Lane said.
"And I just caught up David Howett, the other day after our game, because he's now the assistant NRL coach at the Sharks."
To this day, both Lane and Johnston wear a black wristband that they received during their time at Endeavour.
"On mine it says family, personal best and respect, the three pillars of what we were trying to build as a successful team," Lane said.
"I've worn that ever since I got it, I've snapped it a few times, but each time I reach out to Brad or Dave and they give me a new one."
"It's something that helps me everyday today, instilling those values into my life" Johnston said.
The Rabbitohs winger said that the effort made by the NRL and participating schools to organise a modified Schoolboy Cup in 2020 means the world to students.
"Some kids, they've got school, but what they really look forward to is getting on that field with their mates and playing the game that they love to play," Johnston said.
"They've gone well to keep that open, it keeps the little guys sane, to have something other than just study."
Originally published as NRL star broke Kangaroos camp to keep school promise