Kennar in as Johnston ruled out for Souths

·3-min read

Journeyman South Sydney winger Richie Kennar will play just his second NRL game of the year after being thrust into a preliminary final with Penrith on Saturday.

Kennar takes the place of Rabbitohs winger Alex Johnston, who failed to overcome a hip issue sustained in last week's win over Cronulla.

Johnston, who has 30 tries in 25 games this season, trained separately to the main group at Redfern Oval on Friday.

Despite being subject to a late fitness test, the Papua New Guinean international wasn't given the green light to take on the Panthers at Accor Stadium.

With Josh Mansour absent from training and Jaxson Paulo not included in Souths' 22-man squad, Kennar filled in on Johnston's left edge.

The late change caps a remarkable rise for Kennar who joined the Rabbitohs on a minimum-wage contract and will now be tasked with replacing the prolific Johnston.

The 27-year-old, who spent time at Melbourne and Brisbane, registered a hat-trick in his sole game for the Bunnies this year against Newcastle.

Expecting a physical encounter with Penrith, Souths coach Jason Demetriou claimed Kennar would be able to give his side much-needed go-forward in the battle for territory.

"He (Johnston) is out and he was never going to really be a chance of playing," Demetriou said.

"We gave him every opportunity but we can't afford for a winger to come off the field.

"I'm happy for Richie to get the opportunity and I think the game suits him because it's going to be physical and physicality is not AJ's strength - there's a bit of a win there.

"He (Kennar) is 27, he's been around the traps - he's not going to be overawed by the occasion.

"He's really good in the air which is going to be important, dealing with Nathan (Cleary's) kicking game, so that's a plus for us.

"Coming out of the back of the field, he is as strong in yardage carries as anyone we've got in the club."

The Souths coach said Jai Arrow, who has been struggling with a groin issue, wasn't in any doubt to take on the Panthers.

Despite the losses of Johnston, utility forward Siliva Havili (calf) and prop Tom Burgess (suspension), Demetriou cut a relaxed figure on Friday.

The Bunnies coach refused to bite when asked about blocking tactics deployed by Penrith to protect halfback Cleary.

The storyline dominated the build-up to a finals game between the clubs last season when Wayne Bennett was Souths coach, but Demetriou said his side hadn't been raising it with the NRL this season.

"It's news to me," Demetriou said.

"It was interesting to see quotes from Wayne last year (in a story this week) unless Wayne has been ringing the journos again.

"I respect the way that Penrith play the game and they've been one of the best teams in the comp the last few years.

"The referee won't decide the game, it'll be decided by the players who are out there on the field."