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Shaun Johnson in action against the Raiders in Canberra in Round 20.

The name Shaun Johnson is synonyms with big plays few other players would dare attempt, let alone execute, but in 2016 there is another feature of his game which has become just as important.

While Johnson's ability to force repeat sets won't make the highlight reels, it has been key part of how the ninth-placed Warriors have built pressure and worn down opponents this season.

After 23 rounds of the NRL Telstra Premiership no player has forced more dropouts than Johnson's 19, and it has been a clear area of improvement for him under the guidance of coach Andrew McFadden, himself a former NRL halfback.

"Our kicking game has been really good and Shaun has been a big part of that," McFadden said ahead of Saturday night's meeting with the Cowboys at 1300SMILES Stadium.

"It does allow us to put lots of pressure on the opposition, and those opportunities we get come off the back of some real coordination on last play.

"It is a focus, every team wants to apply the pressure and we are doing OK with that at the moment.

"I think that has come off the back of a better understanding from the team of what it needs on last plays.

"We have got lots of options, we can kick but we can also run, and that makes us a tricky team to defend on last play."

The next best performer in the forced dropouts category is Gold Coast rookie Ashley Taylor on 16, while Golden Boot Jonathan Thurston sits on 15.


This year Johnson's tendency to force the issue with the ball has been replaced by a better understanding of the importance around building pressure, but the Kiwis' No.7 believed the efforts of those around him should be equally recognised and appreciated.

"I think the shape that we have around last play [has helped], we have had a lot of movement from our outside backs, back-rowers," Johnson said.

"We are a genuine option to run the ball on the last which obviously brings the defence up and maybe spaces the defence out a little bit as well.

"Maybe having that deception around me allows me to put the kicks in easier.

"I think it's just something that comes with time, you are learning all the time and I have still got room for improvement which is the exciting thing."

This season Johnson is the undisputed attacking leader for the Warriors – not always the case last year when many stats favoured his halves partner Chad Townsend – and right now he leads the club in points scored (123), line-break assists (23, which is also an NRL high) and line breaks made (14).

Johnson also kicks more than any other player in the competition, averaging 11 per game in a season in which he has played all 21 matches for the Warriors.

Ahead of lining up against Thurston on Saturday night, Johnson said he relished opportunities to test himself against the champion halfback.

"They have got, in my eyes, the best player in the world so that is always an awesome individual challenge," Johnson said of Thurston.

"You always like testing yourself against other players… it drives you a little bit more, I am really excited to get up there and play and I know our boys have got their individual challenges as well." 

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