David Skipwith is the Herald's rugby league reporter

NRL: Issac Luke and Shaun Johnson's pact prompts Warriors form revival

A pact between Warriors hooker Issac Luke and halfback Shaun Johnson to lift their respective running games proved the catalyst for the side's improved attacking play over the past month.

The Warriors 38-12 defeat to Canberra in New Plymouth last month proved the final straw for Luke, frustrated with the team's submissive performance in the first NRL game to be staged in his home province of Taranaki.

The most memorable part of the night came after fulltime, when the Kiwis international paid his respects by leading the hundreds of family members, friends and supporters who had travelled from his home town of Hawera, in a spine-tingling haka.

With his teammates lined up behind him, Luke was visibly moved by the emotion of the moment, and was left wiping tears from his eyes as he departed the field.

"I felt really disappointed in myself to have lost down there," said Luke.

"I know they didn't really care about the result, they were just happy there was an NRL game in Taranaki."

The experience inspired some deep reflection in the 29-year-old and after seven losses from the first 11 games, he conferred with Johnson about how they could help turn the Warriors season around.

Both players had been subjected to criticism for their lack of running and Luke knew they needed to lift their involvement with the ball in hand.

The results were evident in their next two wins over the Broncos and Knights, with Luke's dummyhalf running giving the Warriors momentum to allow Johnson to light up their right-edge attack.

"We had a bit of a talk after the Canberra game," he said. "I put a challenge to Shaun that we both have to run, as it will bring both of us into the game.

"I have to run pretty early just to bring me into the play because I don't want to be out of the game for too long.

"When Shaun runs the ball, everyone just stands still and they don't know what to do. If he can carry on doing what he's doing and picking his runs and passes, things are going to look good."

Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson runs to test the Roosters defence in last week's 12-10 win at Mt Smart Stadium. Photo / Getty Images.
Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson runs to test the Roosters defence in last week's 12-10 win at Mt Smart Stadium. Photo / Getty Images.

The pair were again leading performers in last week's grinding 12-10 win over the Roosters. With Johnson struggling with a quad strain and five-eighth Thomas Leuluai forced off with a head-knock, Luke took it on himself to shoulder more responsibility.

The No9 caught the Roosters by surprise and found open space with some clever kicking and running out of dummyhalf, and relieved Johnson of the goal-kicking duties to slot three vital penalties and a conversion.

"I wanted to take a bit of pressure off Shaun, I know he's been battling there.

"To be able to bring that into my game is something I've been working on for a while and it's starting to pay off.

"To mix it around and take a bit of heat off them, I'll do whatever I can to help them out."

Both will need to be at their best in tomorrow's away match against competition frontrunners Cronulla, and Luke says the Warriors early season woes can continue to provide inspiration.

"The boys are playing well so we've just got to keep the happy environment and keep tracking forward.

"We've just got to keep reminding ourselves of where we were four weeks ago."

Sharks v Warriors at Southern Cross Group Stadium, Saturday, 7.30pm

Sharks: Ben Barba, Sosaia Feki, Jack Bird, Gerard Beale, Valentine Holmes, James Maloney, Chad Townsend, Andrew Fifita, Michael Ennis, Sam Tagataese, Luke Lewis, Wade Graham, Paul Gallen.

Interchange: Ricky Leutele, Chris Heighington, Matt Prior, Jayson Bukuya, Joseph Paulo (one to be omitted).

Warriors: Tuimoala Lolohea, David Fusitua, Blake Ayshford, Solomone Kata, Ken Maumalo, Thomas Leuluai, Shaun Johnson, Jacob Lillyman, Issac Luke, Albert Vete, Bodene Thompson, Ryan Hoffman, Simon Mannering.

Interchange: Nathaniel Roache, Samuel Lisone, Ben Matulino, Charlie Gubb, Ma'afoaeata Hingano, Toafofoa Sipley (two to be omitted).

Referees: Grant Atkins, Matt Noyen.

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