Johnson remains upbeat despite a few hitches
Shaun Johnson really shouldn’t be this chipper.
Nothing much has gone the Warriors way heading into Sunday’s match against the Gold Coast Titans with Adam Blair suspended, fellow Kiwi international Issac Luke [calf] and Tohu Harris [knee] scratched from the Cbus Stadium clash, severely depleting the Auckland club’s forward firepower.
There's also the not insignificant matter of the Warriors having lost three of their last four matches to slip to the bubble position in the top-eight.
But Johnson believes the Warriors are on the cusp of peaking six rounds from what will be their first finals campaign since 2011. He's certainly not concerned about reversing out of the eight altogether, not after feeling the tide turning in last Sunday's gritty six-point loss [12-6] to premiers Melbourne.
"We actually left the game feeling very good about what we are doing, and the areas we're improving on," Johnson said.
"The Storm have been the benchmark for a number of years in that type of [close] game, the games you've got to play if you want to try win this thing, so it gives you a bit of confidence."
A 36-4 drubbing by the Panthers aside, the Warriors haven’t played badly in the past month. They've booked ended their last four matches with three- and six-point losses to the Sharks and Storm and upset the Broncos in resounding fashion in Brisbane.
It hasn't silenced the naysayers but Johnson puts that down to higher expectations to match the club's first serious playoff push in seven seasons.
"We are 11-7 and I don't think we have actually been in this position [for a while]," said the Warriors No.7.
"When we talk about ups and downs, it's been one game slips, and all of a sudden that's the standard now, where [critics are saying] the Warriors are a bit off.
"We are changing that mould of the Warriors and the perception of the Warriors, which is a good thing. If we continue on that path I think we can really make a dent.
"I'm really excited, especially with the commitment we have got towards each other in this group. I know there has been a lot of hype and a lot of talk, and opinions on how we are going to go for the next six weeks change from game to game.
"[But] within the group we have got goals and standards, things that we want to do. Having 30 players committed to that cause is a good feeling and we are looking forward to the challenge."
Captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck echoed Johnson's positive sentiments.
"We've played some good footy and what's exciting is there's so much improvement in us, all of us can all grow and get a lot better"” the twinkle-toed fullback said before confirming the Warriors had focused on execution after bombing try-scoring opportunities against the Storm with unforced errors.
"We put ourselves into some good opportunities to score but I've got to put my hand up for a few things too, just couldn't execute."
Even though the Warriors have won 14 of their last 15 matches against the Titans, coach Stephen Kearney isn't taking anything for granted.
"What's gone on in the past, [and] we've proven that ourselves this year, what's happened in the past means nothing if you don't turn up on Sunday afternoon at 2pm with the right attitude," Kearney said.
"They're a good footy team [Titans] that probably hasn't had a great deal of luck in the last five games, they've averaged 20 points for and 21 against, so the point I'm making there is they always get themselves in the contest."