Souths Logan Magpies Hastings Deering Colts fullback Byron Johnson is the epitome of resilience.
At just 21, the promising young talent has been through the highest of highs and the most heartbreaking of lows – on and off the field.
He missed his chance to captain the Auswide Bank Mal Meninga Cup squad through an entire season in 2020, after COVID-19 brought an end to the competition following just one game.
He then made an unexpected Hostplus Cup debut in 2021, playing just the one game in amongst his first Colts season, and then in 2022 he was cruelled by an ACL injury one week out from Round 1.
But by far the hardest challenge Johnson has had to face during the past three years is the loss of his beloved father, Steven – the man who he describes as his biggest support.
“Throughout my whole career, it would be my dad,” Johnson said of the biggest influence on his rugby league.
“My dad passed away (from bowel cancer) at the start of 2020, so that was that COVID year as well.
“He just loved footy as much as I did. I remember coming home every day and we’d kick the footy in the backyard until the sun went down.
“He’d take me to all my games. He was always there for me. He just knew what to say to me. If I played bad, he would never get angry or would never force me to play.
“He was just a really good support.”
While no one should have to endure what Johnson has gone through, particularly over the past three years, it has made him a stronger person and a better footballer.
Supported by his grandparents and his girlfriend, Keelie, Johnson has returned from his year sidelined through injury to play the opening two games of the season with the Souths Logan Colts team and is named again this weekend for their clash with the Wynnum Manly Seagulls.
When he reflects over the past three years, he can see what a rollercoaster it has been, but also the man he has become.
“I remember with my ACL, I did a full pre-season again with Cup (after doing a pre-season in 2021) and then on the Friday a week before Round 1, I did my ACL at training,” he said.
“I was pretty close to making a start for Cup so that was pretty devastating and that put me out all year. It was my first season-ending injury.
“It was pretty mentally draining. Just not being able to play footy, you take it for granted. I tried getting to trainings every week and that was helpful but it was also hard going there knowing I was so far away from getting back. It was tough.
“It’s like my life is a lot of ups and downs, but it just makes me stronger because you go from one high to a low and that’s been what’s happened throughout my life.
“It’s shaped who I am now and makes me more resilient. I’m able to bounce back.”
Johnson started playing rugby league when he was six, after originally starting out in soccer and being told he was too rough.
He first joined the Greenbank Raiders and then moved to Logan Brothers at the age of 11, playing the rest of his junior footy at the club.
Johnson then joined the Souths Logan Auswide Bank Mal Meninga Cup squad at the age of 17 in 2019 and then was promoted to captain for the cancelled 2020 season.
In 2021, he played the majority of the year in Colts but made his Cup debut in Round 12 against the Tweed Seagulls under former coach turned Souths Logan CEO, Steven Bretherton, and went into the backline alongside the likes of Brisbane Broncos five-eighth Ezra Mam and Broncos affiliate Ethan Quai-Ward.
While it remains his only Cup appearance, Johnson is eager to return.
“That 2021 season was good,” Johnson said.
“I was in the Cup squad. I did a full pre-season with Cup and when Round 1 came around, I slotted back into Colts. I was just playing Colts footy through that year.
“I had a pretty good year, I guess, and I was fortunate enough to get a debut against Tweed for Cup. That was unexpected at the time but it was good.
“I was pretty nervous to be honest. It was just a big step up for me, going from not playing any footy (in 2020) to playing Colts and a Cup game, it all happened pretty quick.
“I forgot my mouthguard, which I never do. I remember just kicking off and I just wanted to try to get my hands on the ball as quick as I could and get myself into a game.
“It was a really good experience and it makes me really hungry to get back there.”
And as the former Brisbane Boys College student works his way into season 2023, building back from his ACL injury, he is hopeful that opportunity comes again soon.
He was named as the replacement for Souths Logan’s Cup side in Round 7, so there are promising signs ahead.
But most importantly, the physiotherapy student just wants to get a full year of footy under his belt and hopefully push for a Hastings Deering Colts finals appearance.
Match: WM Seagulls v Magpies
Round 3 -
Venue: BMD Kougari Oval, Brisbane
“My biggest goal was to try to get back for Round 1,” Johnson said of his 2023 season.
“Because I did my injury pretty much a year ago to Round 1, my goal was to get back and do a pre-season with Cup, play a couple of pre-season games and push for Round 1. It didn’t turn out that way.
“I didn’t get any trials with Cup because I wasn’t ready with my knee. I just was trialling for Colts because they were later in the year.
“I still remember my first trial game was at Ipswich at like eight o’clock at night. I was only going to play 20 minutes and I just remember going out and trying to do as much as I could in 20 minutes.
“It was really good to just be out there and to have a footy in your hands again and run around. It felt like all the hard work had come to that.
“My first goal now is to just get through a full season injury-free. It would be unrealistic to say I would be playing Cup every week when I’ve just come back from a serious injury.
“I want to build into my season again and play a full season. If that goes well, I want to try to work my way back into Cup. With all the Broncos boys we get back, I know it’s going to be hard but it gives me something to work towards.
“With Colts, one of our team goals is to play finals footy.
“With the young squad that we’ve got, most of them coming off the back of school footy, a good goal for us would be to get to finals footy. But first we need to get some wins under our belt.”
Souths Logan hope to get their first win of the season this Saturday against Wynnum Manly at BMD Kougari Oval.
Match: WM Seagulls v Magpies
Round 8 -
Venue: BMD Kougari Oval, Brisbane