Shaun Johnson believes Saturday's surprise 26-24 win over Australia was a turning point for the Kiwis, and a first step in winning back the New Zealand league public.

Johnson admitted he was disappointed with the modest crowd, but realises that only such performances on the field can change the perception of the national side.

There have been a few false dawns for New Zealand league over the last decade, but this feels like the real thing.

It was certainly a remarkable turnaround, given where the code has been.


The shock World Cup exit at the quarter final stage last November was a rock bottom moment, and that came six months after the Canberra cocaine incident.

The awkward interviews in the wake of the Fiji loss in Wellington also touched a nerve with the public, and then there was the painful review, followed by the controversial Denver test.

But, in the space of 80 minutes on Saturday night, the reset button was pushed and those bad memories will begin to fade.

"I hope it gets that path in motion," said Johnson. "[Though] it's not going to be one game that does it."

Those present at Mt Smart created a tremendous atmosphere, but the lack of faith was reflected in the rows of empty seats, with the crowd estimated at around 13,000.

They will bask in an 'I was there' feeling, as they also witnessed a thrilling clash between the Kiwi Ferns and the Jillaroos, and plenty of entertainment from the respective Junior sides.

"You saw the crowd last night, there were diehards there but in my eyes it was a bit disappointing," said Johnson. "We had three tests and I thought in Auckland, the hub of league, there would be a bit more interest, but that just shows where New Zealand league is at at the moment."

"We understand that we have put ourselves in this position and it is only going to take effort and performances like [Saturday] night to rebuild that trust with our league community."


Johnson's merits were again questioned in the build up but he was impressive with an energetic, busy display, coupled with some touches of magic.

"It was talked about a bit but I was really excited," said Johnson. "I just did my job, did the classic halfback thing. You take the good with the bad throughout your career and a lot of times I'm at the front when things aren't going well and times like this when you play well and get a good win against a quality team you have to enjoy it."

Johnson lauded the platform laid by the "middles", with the Kiwis pack clearly dominant, and enjoyed the burgeoning combination with Kodi Nikorima and the energy provided by hooker Brandon Smith.

"We started a bit slow but for the majority of the game we were over the top of them," said Johnson. "It was a complete team performance."

The 28-year-old also praised the influence of coach Michael Maguire, who has drastically overhauled the feeling around – and within – this Kiwis side.

"Work had started before we had assembled," said Johnson. "I haven't had that since I've been in this camp. That's no coincidence. Things change for a reason and the experience that Madge (Maguire) has brought, the energy [CEO] Greg [Peters] has brought, it fizzles down from the top."

"[And] the work that they did, especially Madge, throughout the week, set us up well. Geez, he spoke about winning so many times it's almost like we had won the game before we played it. That's all we were locked in to doing."