Sam relishing tough mission
SAM Johnson is one of Ipswich's finest junior footballing products but he knows that doesn't count for much once you leave school.
Johnson expected not to be named in the Gold Coast Titans under-20 team for this weekend's Toyota Cup clash with Brisbane, despite playing five of the opening seven games of the season.
But the 18-year-old is not worried or disappointed.
He has been playing out of position for the Titans, in the centres.
While he represented Australian Schoolboys in rugby union at inside centre, the former St Edmund's College student much prefers playing backrow in league.
So he is not sorry if he gets the chance to play in his preferred spot in the FOGS Colts competition for a while with Titans feeder club Tweed Heads.
"This year is really just about developing," Johnson said.
"I've never been in this environment before."
Johnson admits his introduction to the Toyota Cup was a rude awakening.
"The intensity is ridiculous compared to school footy," the Brothers junior said.
"And the physicality.
"It's like nothing I've ever played before."
Johnson has a two-year contract and knows next year will be the one he has to make his mark if he is to continue his rise through the ranks.
"Next year I'm looking forward to a big year," Johnson said.
"It will be my second pre-season so I will be stronger and fitter.
"With the under-20s, that's all you've got to be - fit and strong."
Johnson has enjoyed his introduction to the big time with the Titans under-20s but it hasn't been a happy time for the team, which is yet to win a game in 2012.
"We just need some mongrel and size in the forward pack," he said.
"At training, everyone is still positive but we seem to not play the full 80 minutes.
"We seem to drop off either two minutes before or after half-time or two minutes before full-time.
"The Bulldogs beat us 60-20 and their forward pack was just massive."
Despite that, Johnson has no fears about his ability to handle it in the forwards. "I think I could," he said. "I base my game on technique in defence. Coming from a rugby union background, I just go around the legs."
Johnson had the opportunity to take up an Australian Rugby Union academy contract this year, but thought playing Toyota Cup would be better for his development than playing club rugby every weekend.
But the business and sports management student is well aware that a professional career in either rugby code is rare.
"I'll get the under-20s out of the way and re-assess. Whether it is to go to union or return to Brothers or pursue a career," he said.
Favourite player: Darren Lockyer
Biggest influence: My parents
Biggest influence at the Titans: Greg Bird
Best advice: Live without any regrets
Pre-game meal: Subway