A disconsolate Shaun Johnson chastised himself for not setting up a field goal that could have given the New Zealand Warriors a golden point lifeline against Cronulla.
The Warriors left Toyota Stadium in Sydney with a 20-19 defeat in their round 15 NRL match on Saturday, with Johnson, 21, putting his hand up highest for the blame.
The Warriors had nine minutes to respond to a two-try burst by Jeff Robson and go into the bye buoyed by back-to-back away wins. But Johnson, whose tactical appreciation was top class at Penrith last Monday, neglected to urge his team-mates in front of the posts when they were hard on attack.
Instead, the Warriors persisted with trying to break the defensive line and when Konrad Hurrell was held up as he strived for his second try in the righthand corner with two minutes to play, the game was effectively over.
Johnson's 16th try assist of the season – a grubber for Kevin Locke – might have atoned for debutant Omar Slaimankhel's early blunder and the halfback also crossed close to halftime, but failing to match opposite number Todd Carney's composure down the stretch clearly upset the Warriors go-to man.
"Pretty p..... off" was Johnson's blunt assessment after the Warriors surrendered an 11-point lead with 11 minutes remaining.
Johnson lamented a poor pass to Slaimankhel which Manu Vatuvei's replacement knocked on close to the line a minute before Robson initiated the Sharks' rousing finish by sliding between the posts.
A Carney 40/20 then swiftly had the Sharks circling 10m out and Robson skipped over before the New South Wales State of Origin five-eighth slotted the go-ahead conversion.
"It's hard to look at a turning point but for me it was that play when I went down the left edge and threw a pretty crap pass to Omar," Johnson said. "I can't help but think if we got to the end of our set there, maybe we could score a try or get a repeat set and things would be a lot different."
The Warriors' eighth loss of the season was particularly painful for Micheal Luck, Ben Matulino and Slaimankhel, although the latter's mood and performance improved after gifting Ben Pomeroy a sixth-minute try when he lost control of the ball while being tackled 20m from his line.
Luck, playing his first game since last year's grand final, managed only 25 minutes either side of the break before a knee injury hit; Matulino's 100th appearance was also cut short by a sternum injury in the third quarter.
Fortunately the duo should be fit to face Origin-depleted North Queensland in Auckland on July 1, an important exercise because the Warriors will still be at least a win outside the top eight despite their two-point bonus from the weekend off.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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