David Skipwith is the Herald's rugby league reporter

Shaun Johnson admits criticism taking a toll

Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson knows his form is disappointing and admits media scrutiny and criticism on social media gets to him in games.

Johnson says the Warriors, who take on the Broncos at Mt Smart today, have been struggling to focus on football amid the distractions of mainstream and social media flak.

The 25-year-old Kiwis international says the problem is affecting his confidence so much he found himself worrying during their last-start defeat to Canberra about what criticism he would receive.

"It's been very tough lately," Johnson told Tony Veitch in an interview to be aired on Newstalk ZB today. "Half our issue at the club is dealing with the media.

"Getting focus for a game at the weekend, we have to put everything happening outside to the side.

"I played the game against the Raiders a couple weeks back and made some errors and, for the first time in my career, what came into my head when I made those errors, 'what are they going to write about me this week?' It affects everyone in a different way. That's how it affected me. Some players it doesn't affect.

"We've spoken about it as a club. I don't want to be dealing with that, I don't want to be thinking about that. But when you hear something so much, of course it's going to get in somehow."

The 2014 Golden Boot winner admits his form has been "below par" throughout the first half of this season. Last year he felt he was playing the best football of his career before suffering a season-ending ankle injury last July.

The combined weight of the pressure to return to his best, relentless criticism and the added frustration of other dramas affecting the club, such as the recent prescription pills scandal, have taken a toll.

He relies on the help and advice of club psychologist and former All Whites captain Ceri Evans to help clear his mind and maintain focus and says he has prepared well in the lead-up to today's game.

"He's been a massive help, not just this year but last year, before I did my ankle," he said. "I was playing some awesome footy and he was a big part of that.

"It's definitely not just one thing that contributes to you not performing to the level that you want. It could be the ankle, outside noise, things that are going on with the club.

"This week it's been really good. We've had lots of chats with the boys. Cappy [coach Andrew McFadden] says it's about just getting back to having a crack and not worrying about what gets written about me after the game. [And] not worry about what people are going to comment on my Instagram."

Johnson refuses to stay off social media completely, but he has learned to choose times that are appropriate and admits he is keeping a low profile.

"I read it, I'm on social media. I see it all," he said. "It's just dealing with that and actually just being able to focus on football, just coming in and just going, 'okay, forget about all the noise that's going on around us, let's just bunker down and focus on football'. That's been our biggest priority of late."

Johnson is reluctant to contemplate leaving the Warriors and escaping the fishbowl environment that goes with playing for the country's only NRL club. He remains driven to help the club resurrect their finals hopes and achieve consistent success to help boost the game's profile.

"Look, I don't want to get in trouble. I don't want to make people think I'm not happy at the Warriors. I grew up watching this club. I understand what us succeeding, and us playing well, can do for rugby league in this country. And I want to be a part of that."

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