NRL: Elliott, Johnson at loggerheads

By Michael Brown

Elliott not only has to get Warriors up for Knights clash he has to deal with an 'embarrassed, humiliated' Johnson.

Playmaker Shaun Johnson was not amused at being benched in the horror show against the Panthers. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Playmaker Shaun Johnson was not amused at being benched in the horror show against the Panthers. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Coach Matt Elliott has a lot of work to do to mend the ailing Warriors and he will also need to repair his relationship with halfback Shaun Johnson.

Johnson shot an angry look at the coach's box when dragged by Elliott in the 49th minute of the Warriors' disastrous 62-6 defeat to Penrith on Saturday night.

His mood hadn't improved much when he returned to Auckland. He was the first through Customs and moved quickly to exit the airport.

"Embarrassed, humiliated," he said. "As a halfback, that's the last thing you want. I would rather get run over 20 times than get pulled from the field and let your teammates down like that.

"Certainly, I was a bit off on attack ... but I know I wouldn't be the only one to say that."

He was poor. His last tackle options were off the mark, he missed touch with a penalty and missed two tackles and made a team-high three errors.

But he was not alone in a dreadful all-round display.

It was just the second time Johnson had been substituted in his 48-game NRL career but the first since his debut season in 2011. Only a fortnight earlier, the 22-year-old was being lauded for the way he was learning how to direct the team around the park, his improving kicking game and maturity for landing a field goal in their 25-24 win over Gold Coast.

"My belief in Shaun is growing really quickly," Elliott said at the time.

A coach has the right to drag a player from the field at any time and Elliott felt Johnson was off the pace. He probably also thought it would be good for Johnson's development.

Interestingly, Penrith coach Ivan Cleary, who handed Johnson his debut in 2011 when at the Warriors, expressed surprise when both Johnson and Feleti Mateo were substituted. "When you're that far ahead, you're thinking who's going to spark the comeback and those two guys are probably at the top of the list."

That's the same Johnson many believe the club should be built around and there have been calls the Warriors should lock him into a long-term contract beyond his present deal which expires in 2015. He is a player of tremendous potential and his development needs to be handled carefully.

Former Kiwis captain Hugh McGahan believes Johnson should be paired with Pita Godinet in the halves because the partnership with Thomas Leuluai isn't working. McGahan said Godinet consistently makes a difference, providing the team with a spark.

Elliott has resisted making wholesale changes for Sunday's match against Newcastle at Mt Smart Stadium, with Johnson and Leuluai retained. Fullback Kevin Locke (back) and centre Dane Nielsen (ribs) have been slated to return with Glen Fisiiahi and Carlos Tuimavave dropping to a seven-man bench, which also includes Ngani Laumape.

It shapes as a crucial game for the Warriors, but they face a stern examination from a Knights side fresh from their 44-8 destruction of the Bulldogs on Sunday. "We didn't compete in physical terms last week and that's simply not good enough in this competition," Elliott said. "If you don't measure up in the physical exchanges you'll be humiliated - and we were."

There were few who felt more humiliated than Johnson. "I'm very hungry to go out there," he said. "No more talking."

Warriors v Knights

Mt Smart Stadium, 4.05pm Sunday

Kevin Locke
Bill Tupou
Dane Nielsen
Ben Henry
Manu Vatuvei
Thomas Leuluai
Shaun Johnson
Sam Rapira
Nathan Friend
Russell Packer
Feleti Mateo
+Simon Mannering
Todd Lowrie

Warriors: Ben Matulino, Jacob Lillyman, Elijah Taylor, Carlos Tuimavave, Glen Fisiiahi, Ngani Laumape, Pita Godinet.

Darius Boyd
James McManus
Joey Leilua
Dane Gagai
Akuila Uate
Jarrod Mullen
Tyrone Roberts
Kade Snowden
+Kurt Gidley
Willie Mason
Robbie Rochow
Alex McKinnon
David Fa'alogo

Newcastle: Travis Waddell, Neville Costigan, Adam Cuthbertson, Korbin Sims, Kevin Naiqama.

- APNZ

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