Johnstone, a product of the Stanningley club in Leeds, enjoyed an outstanding Betfred Super League season with Catalans Dragons, but probably wouldn’t have featured had Dom Young not been ruled out through illness.
In front of a 12,898 crowd, there was nothing between the sides in the first 40, but Johnstone’s touchdowns on 55 and 67 minutes ensured it was England’s afternoon.
Leeds Rhinos centre Harry Newman made his Test debut on the other flank and had a solid game, defending strongly though he didn’t see much of the ball. He kept his discipline and even acted as peace-maker at a second half scuffle.
It was a good day for Yorkshire-based players, Hull KR’s Mikey Lewis being named man of the match in his first international appearance. He set up field position for England’s first try and scored their second.
It was an entertaining, hard-fought Test between two well-matched teams and the narrow margin set the scene nicely for Saturday’s meeting at Huddersfield. Tonga played the more adventurous rugby, but England’s defence was strong.
Lewis’ superb break led to England’s opening try after eight minutes, scored by Toby King from Victor Radley’s pass, but the tourists were ahead early in the second quarter.
Starford Toa got Tonga off the mark with a 16th minute try; then John Bateman spilled Radley’s pass in good field position, Tonga counter-attacked and, after a drop out, Salford’s former Rhinos stand-off Tui Lolohea grubbered over the line and Will Penisini ran through to touch down.
Isaiya Katoa’s conversion made it 10-6, after Harry Smith had added the extras to King’s opener, but England responded strongly. Lewis continued his strong start in Test rugby with an outstanding finish, his footwork bamboozling Tonga’s defence after England tapped a penalty in front of the posts. Smith provided the pass and his goal made it 12-10, but Katoa landed a penalty moments later, five minutes before the break, to level the scores.
That was a fair reflection at half-time, though England would have trailed had Katoa managed to land another penalty attempt after the hooter.
That was Tonga’s fourth penalty of the half, to just one for England. After the break it was Tonga whose discipline let them down as they conceded a couple of penalties and a set restart on the last close to the line.
England did nothing for the first five tackles after that, but then full-back Welsby slung a long pass to the left to give Johnstone a walk-in. He struck again when Penisini aimed a pass at his winger Toa, but the Catalans flier snatched the ball and galloped clear from near half way. Smith added the extras and England held on despite Tolutau Koula’s late touchdown, improved by Katoa.
England: Welsby, Makinson, Newman, King, Johnstone, Lewis, Smith, Burgess, Clark, Lees, Bateman, Whiteman, Radley. Subs Walker, Knowles, Hill, McMeeken.
Tonga: Hopoate, Toa, Prenisini, Suli, Koula, Lolohea, Katoa, Fonua-Blake, Havili, Fotuaika, Frizell, Koloamatangi, Kaufusi. Subs Teaupa, Tatola, Olakau’atu, Sele.
Referee: Liam Moore (England). Attendance: 12,898