NRL: Johnson keen to see the spark return

By Michael Brown

Shaun Johnson. Photo / Getty Images
Shaun Johnson. Photo / Getty Images

After a dream start to his career, Shaun Johnson is learning the harsh realities of the NRL and says it will take time for the new Warriors halves combination to gel.

The 22-year-old had a brilliant first season in 2011, when he played with freedom and on instinct to help the Warriors to their second grand final. Last year, his first full NRL season, was more of a struggle as the Warriors lurched to a disappointing 14th place but there are high expectations Johnson and five-eighth Thomas Leuluai will help spark a significant turnaround in 2013.

The Warriors got off to a shocking start in their 40-10 defeat to Parramatta but showed signs of improvement in the final 30 minutes against the Roosters on Saturday night, when they made a late charge only to go down 16-14.

Johnson was a catalyst for the momentum swing, scoring a runaway try and guiding the team around with a good kicking game and a handful of nice touches. He notched his first 40/20 of his career and also chimed in with one try assist and four tackle breaks.

"I don't think it's going to take one try or one of two plays,'' Johnson said. "Just like building the combination with Tommy in the halves, it's going to take a bit of work. The slump we have been in, I wish it was that easy to get out of but we understand it's going to take bit.

"I love working with Tommy. He's a pretty easy guy to work with. We both share the same view on how we want to play the game. It's just important we keep on the same page. At the moment we are doing that and heading in the right direction. He's a natural leader and his voice is pretty demanding. When he speaks, we react. If he keeps doing that, we will adjust.''

The Warriors are on a 10-match losing streak and face a difficult run of games to try to turn that around. On Sunday they will tackle a tough Cronulla side still bristling over the Australian drugs scandal before games against the Cowboys and Rabbitohs.

Warriors coach Matt Elliott has named an unchanged side to travel to Sydney take on the Sharks, who beat the Titans 12-10 in their opening match before going down 14-12 to the Rabbitohs on Monday night.

The main area of contention is at hooker but Elijah Taylor has retained the No 9 jersey with Pita Godinet starting on the bench. Godinet has provided a spark off the bench in the first two games, and scored a try against the Roosters, but Elliott clearly still sees him as a better option to inject into the game against tiring defences.

Ben Henry has overcome his ankle injury which has kept him sidelined for the first two games and been included in an extended five-man bench. Manu Vatuvei (ankle), Jerome Ropati (knee), Sam Lousi (foot), Sione Lousi (knee), Russell Packer (bicep), Carlos Tuimavave (hand) and Nathan Friend (shoulder) are all still out.

Johnson was encouraged by the performance against the Roosters, especially after the schellacking they received in the first game against Parramatta.

"It was a big improvement,'' Johnson said. "One of the big things we talked about was putting some pride back in the jersey and competing and really having a dig and I thought we did that.''

Warriors side to play Cronulla at Sharks Stadium, Sydney, on Sunday (4pm): Kevin Locke, Glen Fisiiahi, Dane Nielsen, Konrad Hurrell, Bill Tupou, Thomas Leuluai, Shaun Johnson, Sam Rapira, Elijah Taylor, Ben Matulino, Steve Rapira, Simon Mannering (c), Todd Lowrie. Interchange: Jacob Lillyman, Feleti Mateo, Sebastine Ikahihifo, Pita Godinet, Ben Henry.

- APNZ

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