Johnston to tackle a new challenge

WOLLONGBAR-Alstonville hooker Bill Johnston will tackle his next challenge when he takes over as coach of the Pioneers in Far North Coast Rugby Union next season.

Johnston, 29, returned to the club this season and was part of the undefeated team that won the premiership for the second straight year.

He will still play and takes over from John Jenkins who coached for two seasons at the club.

"I knew midway through the season the position would be available so I put my hand up," Johnston said.

"I've been a level two coach for a couple of years and helped out with the Australian Barbarians team.

"I wouldn't step into the role unless I thought I was capable of doing the job."

Johnston has had a lengthy rugby journey since his first grade debut at Wollongbar as a 16-year-old.

He played premier rugby on the Gold Coast before some time in the Western Force system in Super Rugby.

He has played Shute Shield in Sydney with Easts and with the Australian Barbarians and other invitational teams around the world.

His final stop was a quick stint with the NSW Country Eagles in the National Rugby Championship before he moved home last year.

"I enjoy working with a range of players," Johnston said.

"The biggest thing about transitioning into a player-coach is earning the respect of the guys I've already been playing with."

The Pioneers will be without three of their best with halfback Justyn Keir, prop Joel Crowther and winger James Vidler overseas.

They will still go into the season as heavy favourites having not lost a game since May 2014.

"We were a bit rattled in the grand final this season and only just won it in the end," Johnston said.

"Everyone will want to beat us next season so there is definitely a bit of pressure there."

The Pioneers will have one less team to worry about with the Grafton Redmen leaving the zone to play on the Mid North Coast next season.

Evans Head or Murwillumbah would likely be the only teams from second grade to step up to fill the void.

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