Fresh from another impressive performance in his Test debut for New Zealand, young Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson has thrown down the gauntlet to Melbourne, claiming he isn’t worried by what the undefeated Storm have to offer in Wednesday night’s Anzac Day clash.
It is now seven months since Johnson ended Melbourne’s 2011 season with a stunning play to send Lewis Brown over for the match-winning try – his jinking run not only propelling the Warriors into the 2011 grand final but also announcing the 21-year-old as the NRL’s latest superstar.
Now a Kiwi Test representative and having shown no signs of the so-called ‘second-year syndrome’ in 2012, Johnson told NRL.com that he was looking forward to rekindling his rivalry with the Storm and snapping their seven-game winning streak.
“Any game you play in the NRL is going to be tough but I actually don’t mind playing Melbourne,” Johnson said. “The way they’re going at the moment, they are going to be pretty hard to beat but I think we’re up for the challenge.”
Asked about his memorable performance in last year’s grand final qualifier, Johnson added: “That’s probably why I don’t mind playing them so much. I’ve played them once and beaten them once! Hopefully we can do it again on Wednesday night.”
Despite his cockiness, Johnson insists he is under no illusions as to what the Warriors are up against in the second of the NRL’s Round 8 clashes on Anzac Day.
It will be the second game in a row for the talented playmaker that he has come up against the Storm’s big three – Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith – following New Zealand’s 20-12 loss to Australia last Friday night and he expects that they will again hold the key for the home side.
“They are always going to be very important to how their team goes so I think we’ve got a big job on our hands there,” he said.
“But I think it’s a big opportunity for us, too.
“Someone like Cooper [Cronk], he is one of the best halves in the comp at the moment and I certainly relish the challenge of playing against him.”
Following the game plan will be key, according to Johnson, and he believes the Warriors have found a good one – albeit one he is reluctant to divulge. When pressed as to what his side must do to prevail, he hesitates and quips, “Oooh… I don’t know if I should tell you that one mate. I’ll pass,” before adding, “I think we need to look after the ball and complete our sets. I think we need to really come up and meet them out there – we can’t wait for them to come to us.
“Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, the boys know what we need to do and what we can achieve if we stick to our game plans. Last game (when they beat Souths 44-22 in Round 7) was a very good indication of that.”
Still, there is little doubt that if the Warriors are to prevail against Melbourne, Johnson will be central to their plans.
Despite the Kiwis’ loss last Friday, their new halfback showed enough to suggest he will cause the Australians – and everyone else for that matter – plenty of headaches over the coming years and he has continued on this season with his penchant for producing the big play.
“A lot of people talk about the second season but I wasn’t too worried about it,” Johnson, who is confident of taking the field against the Storm despite suffering bruising to his shoulder in the Test last Friday, explained. “I was confident that I had done the hard work in the off-season. I think if you do that then everything else takes care of itself.
“I think I’m lucky that I’ve got real good players around me so I don’t really need to do too much. I just have to do my job and play my role within the team. I don’t try too hard to do things, I just let the big play come and keep doing the little things right.
“That’s what I did with New Zealand last week.
“Just the whole week, being with experienced players and players that have played a few Tests – it was good. I’m feeling confident that I got through the Test and was able to play at that sort of level. It’s always hard to judge how you go when you didn’t win but I’m happy that I got through the game and contributed to the team.”