Suzanne Johnson knows the importance of being a strong leader, not just at the best of times but also at the toughest of times.
The former Queensland and Australian Jillaroos representative has been cruelly sidelined from this Saturday’s Holcim Cup grand final against Valleys Diehards after suffering an ACL rupture five weeks ago.
All season Johnson has been dreaming of premiership glory, especially after her side, Goodna Eagles, lost last year’s Holcim Cup decider to Runaway Bay.
But, even with her personal setback, captain Johnson is a true leader and while she desperately wishes she could be on the field, Goodna will have no bigger supporter than their veteran centre come Saturday.
“Being captain, a lot of the girls look up to the senior leaders in the group,” Johnson said.
“If I put my head down after my injury and had that ‘why me?’ attitude, it wouldn’t have gone down well. I had to be a positive role model in the space to keep their spirits up as well.
“I’ve taken on a bit more of a mentor role over the last four weeks.
“It’s such a good group, such a tight bunch of girls and it’s really shone through this year. It doesn’t matter what team you take on the park, they have that belief in one another.
“We had a good start to the season, dropped off in the middle of the season and we’ve turned it around in the last couple of weeks to hit home and focus on what we set out to do at the start of the year, which is make the grand final.
“This is giving me the drive. I’m hurting but it’s a team sport and I’m so proud of the girls.”
Johnson said she had been at as many training sessions as possible since her ACL rupture, which came in the final 10 minutes of Goodna’s Round 9 clash with Runaway Bay, and would continue to play that off-field mentor role as much as she could.
The former Queensland player, who featured in the state representative team from 2007 to 2012, took a break from the game for several years and rediscovered her love of rugby league in 2019 thanks to Goodna.
Now she hopes those strong bonds within the Eagles’ line-up will be what helps deliver a premiership.
“Some of the girls I played league with at the Springfield Panthers back in the day hit me up and said, ‘we need experience back in our squad’,” Johnson said of her return to rugby league with Goodna.
“As soon as I got to training, I was like, ‘why did I ever stop playing?’.
“There’s a real strong sisterhood out there and I wanted to buy into that. The younger girls in the Goodna squad, there’s such strong talent out there and I wanted to be part of that too.
“They’re the future and we do have the pathways now. I wanted to be a small part of their journey because I didn’t have that back in the day.
“On Saturday, I’ll keep trying to play that mentor role.
“I want to try to remind the girls to not play it out in their heads too much. There’s going to be nerves, excitement, all different things … it’s about keeping the girls level-headed while also allowing them to feel that excitement.”
Goodna finished the regular Holcim Cup season sitting in second place but qualified straight through to the grand final after beating minor premiers Valleys 12-10 in the opening week of finals.
Johnson was already sidelined at this point and underwent surgery on Monday.
But she said after last year’s heartbreaking grand final loss to Runaway Bay – which they lost 26-10 – it was inspiring to see the way her side rose to the challenge against Valleys.
They’ll meet the Diehards again on Saturday at Mustangs Brothers grounds and Johnson is confident they have what it takes.
“I’m very proud of the girls because I feel as though that semi-final they played really showed them that they can come up against anyone, with big names or not, and they have it within themselves to take that win away,” she said.
“The pain of last year is absolutely still there. Losing a grand final after having such a successful year, it does hurt.
“We took a lot of lessons away from that loss and we focused on the stuff we could improve on and we went away and did that this year.
“Valleys is a very, very strong team – they have some big forwards and lethal backs. We know it’s not going to be easy. A lot of their strength comes from their backs and we’ve really focused on trying to shut down some of that.
“I definitely think it’s going to be a fast and physical game.
“As much as losing a grand final sucks, it also gives you the opportunity to learn some things and change some things. We’ve been able to do that and come strong where it counts.”