League: Johnson's bag of tricks grows deeper

By Kris Shannon

New Zealand Kiwis halfback Shaun Johnson. Photo / Getty Images
New Zealand Kiwis halfback Shaun Johnson. Photo / Getty Images

Shaun Johnson often elicits comparisons to Kiwis teammate Benji Marshall but Johnson last weekend showed a side to his game Marshall would struggle to replicate.

The halfbacks will go head-to-head on Friday night when the Warriors travel to Leichhardt Oval to take on the Tigers, and Johnson warmed up for the encounter by scoring twice in his side's win over the Roosters on Saturday.

The first try was straight out of the Marshall playbook. Floating across the face of the Roosters' line inside their red zone, Johnson turned nothing into something by dancing through the defence with a quick step that left two would-be tacklers in his wake.

The second, though, couldn't have been more contrasting. A high crossfield kick with pinpoint accuracy looked set to threaten the Sydney rearguard but, instead of Johnson's boot being the provider, the 21-year-old was on the receiving end.

He leapt in a manner which belied his 179 centimetres and hauled in the ball over the 1.94m Shaun Kenny-Dowall before forcing it to the turf.

This was closer to Manu Vatuvei than Marshall in its execution, and it pointed to yet another oval ball code Johnson has excelled in. A former touch player of mythical status, Johnson has also represented his country in Aussie Rules - something which was abundantly clear at Mt Smart Stadium.

"I've got my Aussie Rules coach here from back in the day and as soon as I saw him after the game he knew what was up straight away," Johnson said. "I've been asking Jim [James Maloney] to put it there all year, and he finally did and I just got to get up."

On his first, more conventional, try, Johnson was similarly matter-of-fact.

"I just got the ball and drifted across and got through," he said. "It was pretty good."

And how did you manage to get through, Shaun?

"Just did some feet."

Thankfully for Johnson, there is no shortage of admirers ready to dish out the superlatives to describe his play.

"He's unbelievable, his footwork's amazing," vanquished Roosters' captain Braith Anasta said.

"We gave him a little too much space and he'll take it every time."

Roosters' coach Brian Smith called him a "beautifully balanced athlete", while teammate Konrad Hurrell described the type of influence Johnson had on the side.

"It's awesome - you never know what that little fella's going to do. He'll do it every game but no one knows what he's going to do to the other team. It's a good feeling to play outside of him."

After his breakout campaign last year which culminated in a grand final appearance at the age of 20, it is of a surprise to no one that Johnson is at the heart of everything good for the Warriors this season.

Five of his six tries have come in Warriors wins, sparking a side that is beginning to resemble last year's incarnation following a rocky start. The victory over the Roosters made it three from their last four, as the streaky Warriors attempt to improve on their five win-five loss record.

"Here's hoping," Johnson said. "I think we can only take it game by game. We've been getting results the last two weeks because we've been sticking to our structures and what we've set out to do. That's always pleasing, so I'm sure if we can keep doing that we'll get a few more wins."

That begins in Sydney on Friday night, where Johnson will face the man who partnered him in the halves in last month's Anzac test. There will be no shortage of flair and footwork but, with Johnson on the field, who knows what else to expect.

- APNZ

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n4 at 02 Oct 2014 20:47:29 Processing Time: 1131ms