Shaun Johnson is loving playing alongside Kieran Foran for New Zealand. Copyright: SWpix.com
New Zealand halfback Shaun Johnson says his blossoming combination with Manly five-eighth Kieran Foran and their complementary styles has been key to the Kiwis' success so far in the World Cup.
"I've had a couple of previous camps to get to know Kieran and we've just built on that over the few weeks we've been here so, he's a real easy dude to get along with off the field and I think that translates on the field," Johnson told NRL.com.
"He's a senior player in the side, he does a lot of the organising and making the calls and I just relate them and get off the back of it."
Johnson said the fact he and Foran play such different styles has been good for the team's attacking structure. They have been the dominant halves pairing of the tournament so far, with 13 try assists between them. English pair Rangi Chase and Kevin Sinfield have four in total, while the Australian rotation of Daly Cherry-Evans, Cooper Cronk and Jonathan Thurston have six.
"It's awesome how we've got two genuine threats on both sides of the field," Johnson said. "The way Kieran plays is really square and really direct, really fast, and obviously the way I play, I sort of drift a bit more and square up at different times so I think having that contrast has really balanced both of us out.
"If the attack's going too sideways he seems to straighten it right up and vice versa, if we're playing too direct I like to sweep out the back and add a different angle to it so I think we're both willing to give both styles of play a good whack and it's been going good so far."
Johnson added that while he's been pleased with his personal form so far – six try assists, three tries and 25 goals for a personal tally of 62 points in four games – there are still areas he'd like to improve.
"There's always things you need to work on, whoever you are, every player always needs to keep on improving," he said.
"If there's any areas I need to work on one would definitely be last play options, just getting that tackle-five kick choice and execution right. Being the halfback in the side that's a pretty big role in my job and moving forward that's something I have to look at improving."
Johnson said he is also very happy with the team's form overall, but conceded the lack of arm-wrestle style footy – the team has won its four games so far by a total of 186-38 – wasn't ideal for the side's preparation.
"That would have been ideal, to be tested in areas we haven't been tested in so far," he said.
"I can't say enough about the sides we have played, I don't want to show any disrespect to them – they've played with a lot of heart, they've run the ball hard, they've tackled hard, every single side we've played, that's not going to change this weekend," he stressed.
"I just think there's probably that aspect to footy of staying in that grind, getting into a real arm wrestle with a side that we probably haven't been in with anyone yet. In terms of the physical aspect of the contest, I think we've been put through that but probably would have been helpful to be tested in that grind mentality and the back to back sets football."
Johnson said it was pleasing the way the side has been able to build week to week during the tournament, but that the Kiwis couldn't take a backwards step against England at Wembley on Saturday.
"Obviously it's going to be more challenging this week, but if we stick to what we've been doing and have trust in our game plan then we'll go well.
"We've got to understand that they've got some class players and that it's going to be a tough game and we're not kidding ourselves that it's not going to be. We've just got to keep building on what we've been doing.
"They've been pretty impressive, especially that opening game, they took Aussie right to the 80th minute and Aussie are no slouches as everyone knows so I think – just like us they've been looking to build every week. They've got some big forwards who run hard, big players on the edge who run hard, and a pretty nifty fullback [Tomkins, who will be a teammate of Johnson's at the Warriors in 2014] that chimes into the line. So, they're a pretty impressive outfit," he said.
"If we have belief in our game plan and if we prepare right that'll go a long way towards helping us win."