Warriors learn to win without Johnson
After effectively 'starting a club from scratch', the New Zealand Warriors believe they have finally moved past a reliance on marquee No.7 Shaun Johnson that has crippled previous campaigns.
A groin strain suffered during the week kept Johnson on ice this week, but it mattered nought as Blake Green and replacement Mason Lino orchestrated a stunning 30-6 thumping of the Roosters at Allianz Stadium.
It was the Warriors' first win without Kiwi linchpin Johnson since late in 2014, after his lengthy sideline stints in 2015 and 2017 saw them slump to six straight losses in each season, trashing their finals hopes in the process.
Coach Stephen Kearney pointed to his off-season recruitment spree, which netted Green as well as seasoned campaigners Adam Blair, Tohu Harris, Peta Hiku and Leivaha Pulu among others, as key to easing the expectation around Johnson and Lino when the young half was called up as a late inclusion.
''I can't deny that,'' Kearney said when asked whether the Warriors would have capitulated without Johnson in previous years.
''And I think there's a lot of guys that have come to the club that have taken over part of the responsibility there.
"I think that's been part of it. Mason trained with us all week. Shaun spent a fair bit of the pre-season out also so (Lino) spent a fair bit of time with the top group.
Match: Roosters vs Warriors
Venue: Allianz Stadium
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''We asked him to do his job today and I thought he did it pretty well.''
Lino did that and more with the Warriors' opening try and seven from seven off the tee to finish with 18 points and his first NRL win in 10 attempts.
But as has been the case even with Johnson on the paddock this year, it was Green truly calling the shots at first receiver and outpointing his old Melbourne Storm partner in crime Cooper Cronk.
Green was reluctant to declare the Warriors' fourth-straight win any sort of ''statement'' to the rest of the competition, but admitted that accounting for the Roosters without Johnson would have them walking tall for a while yet.
With the Kiwi franchise undefeated and atop the NRL ladder, the 31-year-old credited Kearney with the club's remarkable turnaround after nine consecutive losses to finish 2017.
''It does a lot for belief in the dressing room,'' Green said.
''It's almost like we've started a club from scratch. We've had to have a clean slate and start again.
''Mooks (Kearney) was obviously there last year and has bought some people in this year. He's had a really calming influence on the group.
''He's more direct in what he wants. He's really open as a group with how we feel about things and I think that's brought the best out of us.''
The Warriors host Johnathan Thurston's Cowboys next Saturday and hope to have Johnson back on deck, while Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (elbow) will be right to play despite failing to finish against the Roosters.