League: Johnson cleared for Eels opener

By Michael Brown

Injured halfback declared fit as Warriors focus on ending their eight-match losing streak.

Shaun Johnson's elbow has healed well since his injury 10 days ago. Photo / Getty Images
Shaun Johnson's elbow has healed well since his injury 10 days ago. Photo / Getty Images

The Warriors have been handed a break with halfback Shaun Johnson being passed fit to play against Parramatta in their NRL season opener on Saturday night.

As much as the Warriors want to forget about last season, they can't escape the fact that they are still on a club record eight-game losing streak and will hope to break that sequence as soon as possible.

It will certainly help having Johnson on deck. The 22-year-old playmaker hyperextended his right elbow during the Warriors' 16-10 trial win against Brisbane in Dunedin 10 days ago and it was thought he would be out for up to four weeks.

It adds an interesting subplot to a game that carries considerable importance. Coach Matt Elliott was always optimistic Johnson would be ready to play the Eels and he has named him in his first side for an NRL match since taking over from Brian McClennan.

"I'm confident Shaun is ready to take on the Eels," Elliott said. "Our medical team has been working on him and he has recovered really well."

Parramatta are bound to send a few of their big boys in the direction of Johnson, whose defence can be suspect while his undoubted talents with ball in hand make him one of the most exciting players in the NRL.

He will team up with Thomas Leuluai in the halves, meaning Elijah Taylor will continue at hooker in place of the injured Nathan Friend.

Leuluai is one of three new signings at the club and centre Dane Nielsen and back-rower Todd Lowrie, who arrive fresh from winning the NRL title with Melbourne last season, both make their Warriors debuts.

Wellington's Charlie Gubb is also in line to make his debut, although he is not a certainty to play after being named on an extended six-man interchange bench stacked with forwards.

The 22-year-old prop impressed in an offseason trial which earned him a fulltime contract for 2013. He was a member of the Junior Warriors' inaugural NYC premiership-winning side in 2010 but crossed the Tasman soon after - he won the Queensland Cup with Wynnum-Manly in 2011-2012 and also made the Queensland Residents last year.

Glen Fisiiahi has been named on the right wing ahead of Bill Tupou, second-rower Ben Henry is on the bench after missing the Dunedin trial with an ankle injury and utility Pita Godinet is also included and provides cover for Johnson and at dummy-half.

The Warriors conceded 609 points in their 24 games last year, at an average of 25.4 points a game, and defence has been a key focus since Elliott's arrival. "Defence is a real cornerstone, not just for us but any team," skipper Simon Mannering said. "It's more than just half the game. If you can hold a team to under 10 points every week you are giving yourself a fair chance of winning. If you don't, you need to score six or seven tries every week and that's hard. It comes down to simple things."

Good things also come from a fit and firing Shaun Johnson.

Warriors v Eels
Parramatta Stadium, 7.30pm Saturday
1. Kevin Locke
2. Glen Fisiiahi
3. Dane Nielsen
4. Konrad Hurrell
5. Manu Vatuvei
6. Thomas Leuluai
7. Shaun Johnson
8. Sam Rapira
9. Elijah Taylor
10. Ben Matulino
11. Feleti Mateo
12. Simon Mannering (c)
13. Todd Lowrie.

(two to be omitted) Ben Henry, Jacob Lillyman, Sebastine Ikahihifo, Pita Godinet, Steve Rapira, Charlie Gubb.

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