What it will mean for a Kumul to be game’s greatest tryscorer
Marcus Bai believes the prospect of a Kumul becoming the greatest tryscorer in premiership is history is set to inspire Papua New Guineans for decades as Alex Johnston eyes Ken Irvine’s 50-year record.
Bai, who is widely considered the greatest Kumuls player, helped convince Johnston to represent his heritage in 2019 and the 28-year-old is now a superstar in Papua New Guinea.
“He is our blood, and we are proud that he has chosen to come to play for PNG,” Bai told NRL.com
The big thing with our boys is that they see him, and they think, ‘what he can do, I can do’, so he motivates them and that becomes the conversation in the village.
“Even though he didn’t play his juniors here, we claim him. He has made us proud, and we will all celebrate with him because the all-time record is not far away.”
Johnston has scored 187 tries in 10 seasons for the Rabbitohs and now sits behind only former Storm superstar Billy Slater (190) and Irvine, who scored 212 tries for North Sydney and Manly in a 15-year career from 1958 to 1973.
In the past four seasons he has crossed for 104 tries and could break Irvine’s record as early as next season if he maintains his strike rate since 2019.
Playing rugby league is a highlight in itself but to be up there breaking records is pretty special,” Johnston said ahead of Sunday’s Pacific Championships match against Fiji in Port Moresby.
Hopefully one day I can do something amazing and be on top of the try scoring list.
“I think it will be massive for the country, and to represent PNG through my Nan’s side of the family, it really means a lot to them, so hopefully PNG get behind it and recognise it as something special because I know my family do, for sure.”
Bai, who played 12 Tests for PNG and won a premiership with the Storm in 1999, said Johnston’s NRL try-scoring feats would inspire millions of people in Papua New Guinea now and into the future.
“There are 10 million kids, or however many there are, and they see him as a Papua New Guinean, and a superstar,” Bai said
“The kids all follow him, and he is a legend but he won’t know until he retires and he comes back here. The conversation will just keep going and going and going, until he is 50-years-old or older.”
The South Sydney star revealed that playing for the Kumuls had revived his love of the game after it appeared as if he was going to be forced to leave the club in 2020.
He made his debut for PNG against Fiji at the end of the 2019 season and hasn’t looked back.
Back in 2019, when I played for the Kumuls for the first time, there was a bit going on with my footy back home so I came here and the crowd, and the atmosphere that everyone brought, just made me fall in love with the game again,” Johnston said.
“Everyone loves footy over here, they treat you like a rock star and it’s unbelievable. I’ve probably taken too many photos, my smile is getting a bit sore, but I do love it.
“Back home, being on the wing, I don’t get that much attention so coming here is pretty cool and I feel like I’m like Chris Brown or Michael Jackson or someone. I feel like I’m at the top of the end like a rock star so that’s pretty cool.”