GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 08: Alex Johnston of the Rabbitohs runs the ball during the round 14 NRL match between the Gold Coast Titans and the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Cbus Super Stadium on June 8, 2018 in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

The South Sydney Rabbitohs have been dealt a huge blow ahead of their preliminary final showdown with the Penrith Panthers, with the game’s leading try-scorer ruled out of the contest.

Winger Alex Johnston will not take the field for the Redfern club on Saturday, with Richie Kennar named to make just his second NRL appearance of 2022 in his stead.

Johnston has been invaluable to the Rabbitohs this year, scoring 30 tries in 2022 – just as many as he’d scored the year previous in a history-making back-to-back feat.

He suffered a hip flexor injury just before half-time in the Rabbitohs semi-final win over Cronulla, and though he felt fine during the break he came from the field just nine minutes after the restart.

“I don’t think you can needle, it’s a muscle thing so I’ll get physio and rest up,” Johnston said after the game, per PerthNow.

“I’m on so much pain medicine right now it’s ridiculous.

Coach Jason Demetriou was originally left with a choice between Kennar, former Panther Josh Mansour and winger Jaxson Paulo – who had an infamously bad night under the high ball from Penrith during the team’s Round 23 encounter - as he waited to see whether a '50-50' Johnston could recover in time.

He has since opted for Kennar, who reminded everyone of his own try-scoring abilities with a hat-trick in his only NRL appearance this year.