NRL: Johnson chases substance over style

By Michael Brown

Shaun Johnson scores for the Warriors. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Shaun Johnson scores for the Warriors. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Shaun Johnson has forged a reputation as an exciting player capable of doing the unexpected but the Warriors halfback takes more satisfaction out of doing just what his teammates need of him.

The 22-year-old is showing good improvement in 2013, partly because he's had to following the departure of James Maloney to the Roosters, and is learning how to control games. He still has some way to go but, just like his developing partnership with Thomas Leuluai, it's a work in progress.

On Sunday against the Titans, he produced his fourth 40/20 of the season, put intelligent kicks into the corners or deep and took charge of the situation to set up his winning field goal with 90 seconds remaining - the first of his NRL career.

There was little of the jinking runs or flashy passes. And that's OK by Johnson.

His numbers stack up well against other halves in the competition this season.

He is first-equal for 40/20s (4), second-equal for tries (4), second-equal in linebreaks (3) and second in tackle breaks (24). His goalkicking has room to improve (61.5 per cent) but his average of 2.2 missed tackles a game, something he comes in for criticism for, is 22nd equal among halves in the NRL.

"I'm happy I'm improving," he said. "You can always get better and that's the direction I am heading in at the moment. I'm understanding my role in the team and [against the Titans] I didn't do anything flashy. I just did my role and that was enough. The fact that we won with that makes me very happy.

"[Learning how to control games is] something that's going to take time. Being a young kid and loving the big lob passes, long balls and steps, I guess it's hard to rein that back at times. A day like [Sunday], when it's wet, windy and slippery, we just had to stick to our shape, our gameplan, our structures. It might not have looked like much to the crowd but, in the team, I know I got a lot more pats on the back from the boys than I have in previous weeks when perhaps I've done that big run or the stuff that looks good to the fans.

"I get more satisfaction out of that. That's not to say I don't like running 80m to score a try, I love it, but certainly playing the type of footy that your teammates expect you to - putting the ball in the corner, the 40/20, run our shape, chase a kick - those little things give me more satisfaction."

So does winning and he rated the 25-24 win over the Titans as "more than just two points". It lifted the Warriors off the foot of the NRL ladder and within four points of the top eight and it's hoped the Warriors can now kickstart what has so far been a stuttering season.

They take on an improving Bulldogs side at Wellington on Saturday night and a win would be the first time they had won consecutive games since last July.

They will have to do it without fullback Kevin Locke, who injured his back against the Titans and is out for at least one week, and his place will be taken by Glen Fisiiahi.

They will also be without centre Jerome Ropati (hamstring), which sees a recall for Konrad Hurrell. Fears prop Sam Rapira might also be sidelined have eased after a scan cleared him of any more damage to an ongoing wrist injury that restricted him to just 24 minutes on Sunday.

Warriors side to play the Bulldogs at Westpac Stadium, Wellington, on Saturday (7.35pm): Glen Fisiiahi, Bill Tupou, Ben Henry, Konrad Hurrell, Manu Vatuvei, Thomas Leuluai, Shaun Johnson, Sam Rapira, Nathan Friend, Russell Packer, Feleti Mateo, Simon Mannering (c), Todd Lowrie, Interchange: Ben Matulino, Jacob Lillyman, Elijah Taylor, Pita Godinet, Carlos Tuimavave.

- APNZ

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