Warrior Johnson sticks to his guns
New Zealand Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson has arguably been one of the most scrutinised players in the NRL in 2015 – you best believe he knows it, too.
But after his starring role in the final seven minutes of his team's 20-16 victory against Cronulla on Saturday, Johnson went another step further to prove he isn't going all that bad.
Considering he guided the Kiwis to a unlikely victory over Australia last weekend, Johnson's two clutch plays against the Sharks – where he set up Solomone Kata off the back of some magical lead-up play, before scoring the match-winner with 70 seconds remaining – allowed him to earn further confidence from the public.
Not that Johnson is worried, though. While he is far from satisfied with his season thus far and realises he never reached great heights in his performance against the Sharks until the final eighth of proceedings, the 25-year-old reigning Golden Boot winner knows he has the confidence of coach Andrew McFadden and is sticking to his guns.
"It's really funny actually because I was getting bagged like you wouldn't believe going into the Test last week and I said leading into that game that 'it wasn't as bad as what everyone was making it out to be'," Johnson said.
"I had the confidence of 'Cappy' [McFadden], he was telling me that. He was happy with how I played the month leading into the Test. In saying that I wasn't satisfied, I wasn't feeling like I was at the top of my game but I felt like I was certainly building and again I feel I've done that in different ways over the past couple of weeks.
"I felt like I was a bit quiet [against Cronulla] I was just trying to focus on kicking the ball when we were finishing our sets but then in hindsight to come up with two big plays when we needed it and to be involved in them – I'm very pleased with that."
Confidence can be fickle and while Johnson has the weight of a country riding on his shoulders, he refuses to use the opinions of others to motivate him, simply because he's "not that type of person".
What does matter though are the opinions of his teammates, and if they're happy in what he is doing then the man himself is content.
"I guarantee if the public were to pick the Test team last week, I wouldn't have been in there and that's just the way it is," Johnson said.
"They are the people who are obviously fans and stuff but what really matters to me are my teammates and the coaching staff – and there's no doubt I'm doing right by them."
"I understand I'm never going to be able to please everyone and for me it's about knowing and trusting what I'm doing is improving each week. They have given me the confidence I'm heading in the right direction so that's what I'm trying to do."
While everyone has become accustomed to the flashy brilliance of Johnson since his debut in 2011, the fact he is looking to become a more rounded halfback has ultimately been his downfall.
With his halves partner Chad Townsend putting forward some solid displays of late, it has allowed Johnson to look towards improving other aspects of his game which will only be beneficial in the long run.
"Obviously being a halfback that's what your goal is, you have to control the team and steer them around and I think I did that [against Cronulla]," Johnson said.
"To be honest, I was feeling a little bit flat and weak but I've had to learn to play a different role. With Chad playing so good it has allowed me to be more of a talker and guide the boys around a bit more.
"'Cappy' always wants me to take my opportunities, and I probably missed a few this week to be honest, I didn't take every single one I got. But I ended up taking two pretty important ones I think."