Johnson seals miraculous Warriors win
Two clutch plays from halfback Shaun Johnson has seen the New Zealand Warriors come away with a last-gasp 20-16 victory over the Cronulla Sharks at Remondis Stadium on Saturday night.
WATCH: Johnson's late match-winner
WATCH: Full match highlights
WATCH: Warriors press conference
WATCH: Sharks press conference
While Sharks prop Andrew Fifita looked to have sealed the match for the Sharks with three minutes remaining, Johnson would weave his way through some exhausted defence to score with just over a minute remaining on the clock.
In what were two of very few highlights from the Warriors halfback, Johnson looked to kick downfield with his team stuck just over the halfway line with seven minutes remaining.
With pressure heading towards him from the outside Johnson put his foot down, gliding 30 metres downfield before putting in a pinpoint accurate kick to the chest of Solomone Kata, who scored after butchering an earlier attempt.
Fifita wasn't having any of it and after receiving the ball in the centre of paddock just 15 metres from his own tryline, pushed and barged his way past five Warriors on a memorable run to score what looked like the match-winner.
Or so the 13,000-strong Remondis Stadium crowd thought. A charge down from Ryan Hoffman on a Jeff Robson kick well in their own half saw the back-rower charge half the field before being chased down by Sharks fullback Ben Barba.
Yet on the very next tackle, and with the home team scrambling, Johnson received the ball and weaved his way through a scattered Sharks defence to steal the victory – the Warriors' first in three games.
Warriors coach Andrew McFadden described his halfback's performance as "solid".
"I don't think he can do the stuff he does for 80 minutes, his main job is to get the team around the park and do the solid things - we're trying to build a solid performance in him which I think he did.
"It's those moments where he has to stand up and it's a real credit to him the way he stood up after the Test."
Skipper Simon Mannering added: "It's handy sometimes when you need him to bring out something special. He can create something out of not much and that's pretty much the main time you want him to bring that stuff out.
"He obviously has the skill set - a real quality kicking game and he guides us guys around the park - which is pretty much 90 per cent of his job."
The New Zealand side's win all began from a nifty cut-out ball from the man of the moment Johnson who put in winger Johnathan Wright for his first try of the match. A wayward conversion attempt from Johnson saw the Warriors rack up a 4-0 lead after 18 minutes.
The Sharks hit back though in the 23rd minute when Luke Lewis picked up a deflected grubber from captain Michael Ennis to score under the posts and help his team to a two-point lead.
Amazing defence from Wright prevented the Sharks from going back-to-back when the winger recovered from being outleaped by former Bulldogs teammate Mitch Brown to hold him up in the in-goal and prevent a try. It took only two minutes for the Warriors to inflict further pain after a Sharks error in their own 20 saw winger Manu Vatuvei score out wide in the 31st minute.
In what was an eerily similar try to their first, a cut-out ball from five-eighth Chad Townsend allowed Vatuvei to enter the top 15 try-scorers in premiership history – drawing level with Broncos legend Steve Renouf on 142 tries.
A sensational kick for touch by Sharks hooker Ennis saw the home side enter good territory, a Warriors penalty soon after allowed Valentine Holmes to equal the ledger at 8-all as the half-time siren sounded around Remondis Stadium.
A penalty 36 metres from their own try line was enough for Ennis to call Holmes up to kick another two points for the Sharks, doing so in the 45th minute to make it a 10-8 ballgame.
A Johnson conversion saw the Warriors equal the scoreline up once again in the 67th minute when poor handling from Brown and a penalty a few tackles later saw the visitors enter good territory, which led to the eventual four point win.
In a cause for concern both teams: Anthony Tupou was assisted from the field early on in the second half with a badly broken jaw after he collided with the knee of Konrad Hurrell who was consequentially placed on report for lifting his leg. Tinirau Arona and Ricky Leutele were also injured in the contest, with the Sharks reduced to 14 men for a period of the contest.
For the Warriors, Vatuvei failed to finish the game after exiting midway through the second half with a sternum complaint while Sharks utility Sami Sauiluma was placed on report for a high shot on Thompson.
New Zealand Warriors 20 (Jonathan Wright, Manu Vatuvei, Solomone Kata, Shaun Johnson Tries; Shaun Johnson 2 Goals) defeated Cronulla Sharks 16 (Luke Lewis, Andrew Fifita Tries; Valentine Holmes 4 Goals) at Remondis Stadium. Crowd: 13,988. Half-time: 8-all. On Report: Konrad Hurrell (Warriors), Sami Sauiluma (Sharks).