Johnson eyes former apprentices
For much of the past six years, Shaun Johnson has been tasked with helping to make Tuimoala Lolohea and Ata Hingano into the best playmakers they can be, but on Saturday night he will be hoping they remember none of it.
From the very start of their days in the Warriors' junior system, Johnson has served as a mentor to both Lolohea and Hingano and in recent years has appeared extensively at NRL Telstra Premiership level with both.
Ahead of meeting the pair when his Kiwis play Tonga on Saturday at Waikato Stadium, Johnson expressed a sense of pride at how far Lolohea and Hingano have come.
"It's exciting, it's just really cool to see them playing for their country and playing well," Johnson said.
"You never want to focus on individuals too much, but for me it's an awesome challenge.
"Obviously I know them quite well and I want to put my best foot forward against a teammate and former teammate."
Both players were strong contributors in Tonga's 32-18 victory over Samoa last week, with three try assists between them along with over 120 running metres, while Hingano's strong kicking game proved a point of difference.
Johnson said if the opportunity arose, he would look to offer some insight into how the pair play and where potential weaknesses might exist.
"We have got some extremely good coaches that I am sure will pick out some areas that we want to try and exploit in their games… if there is something there that I see on either Tui or Ata then I will speak up," Johnson said.
"If there's something I can contribute there then I will."
Former Warriors playmaker Thomas Leuluai, who spent time with Hingano and Lolohea between 2013 and the end of 2016, said he was impressed with the way both players have developed since he left for the Super League at the end of last season.
Hingano was a starting half in seven of his 13 games for the Warriors this year, while Lolohea became the first-choice standoff at the Wests Tigers after transferring mid-year.
"They are playing really well, really well, there's a good balance between the two of them and they are working off a pretty fair platform there with the forward pack they have got," Leuluai said.
"They are doing a fantastic job and we are going to have to make sure we are on our game and ready for what they are going to throw at us."