It has been the proverbial 'week from hell' for Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson.
His removal from the game in the 62-6 loss to Penrith Panthers last weekend made him the focal point for the worst result in the club's history and sparked unfounded speculation of a rift between himself and Warriors coach Matt Elliott.
Johnson is usually one of the chirpier players around the club rooms on the day the media are invited in.
But this week, in the build up to Sunday's game against Newcastle Knights, Johnson had a more serious look about him.
"It has been pretty tough, probably one of the toughest weeks I've had to go through since I've been here," Johnson said.
"I've got to take it all on board and front up to it."
Both Elliott and Johnson have denied that there is any animosity between them, but like Benji Marshall with the Tigers, Johnson felt hurt and disappointed to be stuck on the sidelines and watch his team-mates capitulate.
"He [Elliott] told me it was a performance thing, he said I wasn't doing my job and I was well off, so he pulled me off.
"At the time I found it really hard to take because if felt like he was putting it all on me and I was thinking 'well I'm a halfback, I can't really stop 60-odd points'.
"But looking back, I can see why he did it, I knew the whole time the decision he made was never a personal one, that it was in the best interest of the team.
"We've put it behind us now, we've had a good chat and he's backed me this weekend, given me another chance to go out and put some pride back for myself."
Just a few weeks ago, the media and Warriors fans were raving about how well Johnson was playing and there was a feeling that he'd come of age as an NRL player.
But in the fickle world of rugby league, his outstanding performance against the Titans in round eight has quickly been forgotten.
"What's got to me was that all of a sudden I've had a really crap season," Johnson said.
"I play one game and all of a sudden I've been terrible, I've been crap, I'm a has been, a one-year man.
"Well two or three weeks ago I'm pretty sure everyone was saying I'm heading in the right direction.
"What I've learnt is to not listen to it, even though it's really hard. I won't say I don't hear it, but in terms of taking it onboard, I only care about what the playing group, coaching staff and my family think."
Tomorrow's game against the Knights is a daunting one, especially because they demolished the Bulldogs 44-8 last weekend.
It will be fascinating to observe how the Warriors players react from the past week, whether they can play to their potential, stick to a game plan and enjoy themselves, or play like they've got the weight of the world on their shoulders.
"We can't hold back at all," said Johnson.
"We've just got to go out there and have fun, get back to enjoying the style of footy we play.
"I've said it before, we've been too wrapped up by what's happened at the weekend. "Before last weekend we were playing some good footy and improving each week.
"We've got to get back on that path and be a bit ballsy out there."
There have been crisis meetings and honesty sessions galore at the Warriors this week and Johnson felt it came as a huge relief to hit the training paddock and start throwing the ball around,
He felt training had been intense this week, which is a positive sign.
"Everyone in the playing group realises that all of the talk has been done and it's how we go about it with our actions now," he said.
"I don't really think I can say too much more, it all means nothing if I don't go out there and back it up."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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