NRL: Johnson gets first taste of test turnaround

By Kris Shannon

Shaun Johnson. Photo / Getty Images
Shaun Johnson. Photo / Getty Images

When Kiwi debutant Shaun Johnson writhed around the Eden Park turf during the Anzac league test last Friday night, it was doubtful he would be forced to face the short turnaround between playing for country and club.

Johnson's test debut for New Zealand was one minute old and his shoulder looked to be in a world of pain following a less than successful attempt to halt flying Australian winger Akuila Uate.

At that point, tomorrow night's Warriors' clash with Melbourne would have been the last thing on Johnson's mind. But the 21-year-old got to his feet, his international bow continued and he's now eagerly awaiting the first double duty of his burgeoning career.

"I feel good," Johnson said. "I had a couple of days to get over it and I'm just looking forward to Wednesday night."

The halfback acknowledged copping some stick from his teammates after spending more of the opening minutes of the Kiwis' loss to Australia prone on the field than darting through holes.

But Johnson didn't shirk the opportunity to return serve.

"Manu [Vatuvei] seems to be giving me the most grief and I think he stayed down from a little ankle complaint, so I don't know what he's going on about. It's just all part of it and I was just happy that I could play the rest of the game."

Johnson went on to be one of the better-performed Kiwis during their 20-12 loss in the Anzac test, marking his debut with an intercept try to bring his side within two points early in the second half.

Already appearing a player brimming with belief in his abilities, Johnson thought a boost in confidence was his main takeaway from a taste of the international game.

"Knowing that I could play at that top level against the best of the best and get through the game - I'll just be confident in my ability [after] what I gained throughout the week."

Speaking yesterday before flying out to Melbourne, Johnson said he had yet to notice any mental fatigue following his big week and he hoped Wednesday night would feel the same as any other NRL game.

"It was an awesome week in camp with the Kiwis but we're just back to normal now. I watched the boys train yesterday while we rested up, but we're all back on the same page."

One difference from an average NRL game is the opposition. The unbeaten Melbourne Storm have set the benchmark early in the competition and Johnson - who got a good look at several Storm players on Kangaroos duty on Friday - counts himself among their admirers.

"I've watched them for a number of years but they still seem to be the pinnacle in terms of the way they're playing at the moment," he said. "They're very consistent and when the big three - Cronk, Slater and Smith - jump back into that Storm side they just go up another level.

"They all know each other's game so well and they're going to be very hard to stop."

But that is the mission for the three-win four-loss Warriors, with the Storm proving the ultimate litmus test as to whether they have turned the corner after an indifferent start to the season. One advantage for the Warriors is a battle-hardened playmaker who experienced, and eventually thrived in, the highest level of the sport.

"The NRL is very tough but you play test footy and you understand that you're playing the best of the best - Australia's top players in all one side.

"[But] I've got no doubt that this Wednesday night's going to be very tough."

- APNZ

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