Johnson remains upbeat despite ankle injury
The New Zealand Warriors will be hoping Shaun Johnson's prognosis on his ankle injury proves accurate as they face a halves crisis similar to that experienced by the Gold Coast Titans before they dropped out of the NRL top eight on Saturday night.
Key playmaker Johnson limped off Cbus Stadium in the dying stages of the Warriors' 24-16 victory on Saturday night and although coach Andrew McFadden feared he could miss Sunday's clash with Newcastle in Auckland, encouragingly the halfback left the venue on two feet.
''It feels alright, I'll have to see how it pulls up,'' said Johnson, who was influential as the Warriors practically set up camp in Titans's territory before overhauling a two-point halftime deficit.
Johnson pegged the understrength Titans back at regular intervals as the Warriors forced three line drop outs in a dominant half that forced the hosts to make 183 tackles.
He had his left ankle strapped initially and then withdrew once it was evident the Warriors had an entertaining contest under control.
Five-eighth Chad Townsend also supplied some nice touches - particularly a pass for Ben Matulino's ninth-minute try - though he was also occasionally guilty of poor option taking and handling.
McFadden emphasised the importance of Johnson being fit to play a Knights side that will presumably have Darius Boyd and Beau Scott backing up from Wednesday's Origin I in Brisbane because Thomas Leuluai is still at least a fortnight shy of returning from a groin injury.
Debutant-in-waiting Tuimoala Lolohea, the under-20s star who has graduated to NSW Cup this year, is one option for the halves while Sam Tomkins could also move closer to the action from fullback if Kevin Locke is over his ankle injury.
''Whoever steps in is going to do a terrific job. Tui has been waiting a while. If he gets that shot I'll be really stoked for him,'' said Johnson, who had to pass a fitness test on a groin injury before being confirmed in the starting line-up.
He passed another examination in the first half when he latched on to an offload from rookie wing David Fusitua and outpaced William Zillman during a 70-metre angled run.
''He's playing with a lot of confidence at the moment. It's good to see,'' said Johnson of the 19-year-old, who replaced Locke and nabbed a double in just his fourth NRL game.
Competition leaders earlier in the season, the Titans - who were missing halves Aiden Sezer and Albert Kelly among several absentees - have now lost three in a row but were combative until the penalty count evened up and the Warriors ruled possession and territory.
Johnson said the instruction at halftime was to play with more control ''and play tougher too. We were a bit soft in the first half with the tries [a Dave Taylor hat-trick] we let in.'
'McFadden described the win as gritty/ugly and said the team was still coming to terms with tempering their natural flair with the need to build pressure.
''We have got a lot of skill in our team but it's making sure we get that right balance between using it and knowing when to hold the ball.''
Centre Konrad Hurrell personified the best - and worst - of the 12th-placed Warriors with 11 typically barging runs for 89-metres, two superb try assists for Fusitua, four tackle breaks and four offloads counteracted by four errors.
''He's a handful and he's certainly learning to use skill to go with his raw power that he's got. When he gets that balance right he's pretty devastating,'' McFadden said.
Fusitua, the beneficiary of Hurrell's power game and sleight of hand, certainly wasn't complaining about his excitable partner on the right edge.
''You've got to be on the balls of your feet when he runs. Out of nowhere he can pop an offload because he draws in everyone.''