David Skipwith is the Herald's rugby league reporter

NRL: Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson ready for thorough Storm inspection

Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson has worked hard to improve his defence this season. Photo/Getty.
Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson has worked hard to improve his defence this season. Photo/Getty.

Warriors playmaker Shaun Johnson is sure to have plenty of traffic coming at him in their Anzac Day clash with Melbourne Storm, but knows he is up to the task having worked hard to improve his tackling this season.

Johnson's dazzling running game is a feature of any NRL highlights package but his tackling is often overlooked despite him developing that area over the past two seasons.

The 25-year-old halfback focused on his defence during the early stages of his return from the broken ankle that ruined his 2015 season and says it provided him with a solid foundation off which he could improve his game.

Johnson always knew his trademark flair and ad-lib running game would return in time, but says he relied on his tackling to help him find his rhythm.

"A big part of footy and my own game is my defence," said Johnson.

"I feel like if I can get that right, the other stuff, I'm lucky I don't have to worry about too much.

"The running side of things, I just know that will come back. For me, it was about getting the base of my game solid and working with [Warriors defence coach] Justin Morgan on my timing and techniques."

It's worked a treat throughout the first seven rounds, with Johnson's defensive success rate up at 87 per cent, having made 117 of 135 attempted tackles.

Whether it be wrapping the ball up with a one-on-one spot tackle on a big forward, or a grassing around-the-legs effort on a half or outside back, he is getting the job done.

And if Storm coach Craig Bellamy plans on sending wave after wave of attacking runners at the No7 at AAMI Park on Monday, he can think again.

The tactic may help to tire him out and limit his impact on attack but Johnson produced his best defensive display of the season in the round three 21-14 defeat to Melbourne at Mt Smart Stadium, when he made 31 tackles for just one miss.

However, Johnson knows that reputations, good or bad, are hard to shake. The perception remains, he believes, that tackling is a weak area of his game.

"Yeah, probably, I've still got that tag, don't I, that I can't defend," he said. "People are going to say and think what they want, all I can do is go out and make my tackles and that's all I'm doing.

"He [Morgan] doesn't expect me to flatten blokes but he just expects me to make my tackles and win as many as I can, so that's all I'm looking to do.

"I know my teammates appreciate it and they see the work I'm putting in to that area so that's all that matters."

Warriors coach Andrew McFadden acknowledged the improvements Johnson has made and believes his all-round game is at a new level this season.

"Defensively, he's been really strong," McFadden said. "The last 18 months he's definitely improved.

"He's put a lot of attention on it. Justin Morgan's done a terrific job in highlighting the importance of it and he's really brought into that, so he's got a much more rounded game now than he ever has.

"His teammates have been acknowledging his defensive efforts, not just the offensive stuff that he gets all the accolades for."

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