Unpredictability key to Warriors' finals success: Johnson
Here's something you won't hear from a Warriors player every day: "We just need to be a bit more instinctive."
But that is the intangible magic halfback Shaun Johnson believes is missing as the Auckland club zeroes in on its first playoff series since reaching the 2011 grand final.
If they can rediscover the DNA of Warriors teams of old, Johnson is convinced they can go from being viewed as potentially dangerous Telstra Premiership pretenders to genuine title contenders.
The Kiwis international is well qualified to analyse such attacking conundrums given he's a half who plays off the cuff like few others. He also knows it is necessary as opponents now have so much video intel on each other that it is increasingly difficult to spring an attacking surprise.
Johnson offered the Warriors' 12-6 loss to the Melbourne Storm in round 19 as exhibit A.
"When we played Melbourne out here a couple of weeks back, they we telling us what we were going to do," the 27-year-old revealed.
"They've got Bill Slater at the back there yelling out 'they laying one here' so every team knows. Fine, they can know it, but you've still got to stop it and we're confident if we execute, it's still hard for other teams.
"I mean we know what Souths are going to throw at you, pretty much every time. There's teams right across the comp that sort of run the same sort of shape. Where our difference is, it that reaction, the instinctive click moments that we talk about and it feels good when you come up with those plays, you get the crowd into it and get a bit of energy from it as well."
Johnson can feel the old razzle-dazzle returning as the Warriors prepare to face the Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium on Sunday.
An example of the kind of play that's fuelling the halfback's confidence is Adam Blair's 28th-minute try in last Friday's 20-4 win over Newcastle, when the second-rower stormed onto a short pop pass from centre Gerard Beale after a telling initial thrust from Simon Mannering and silky lead-up work from Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Johnson.
"It's about playing, I guess, a bit more instinctive, playing each play, sniffing around the ball a bit more and getting on to the footy. You probably saw Adam Blair's try at the weekend, you know where we were a bit more instinctive and reacting," Johnson said.
"Our attack, if we looked at [the Knights match] was pretty measured. We came up against a side that didn't go away at all, they scrapped and scrapped and made it difficult for us. We were able to build some pressure and I guess an improvement for us is making the most of that. We sort of let them off the hook a couple of times, especially in the last play where we just couldn't quite nail it.
"It's a balance of just committing to each play and playing each play because when you are setting up for teams and setting up plays to have your big shift, teams are getting really good at defending that."
Even though the Bulldogs are embroiled in the wooden spoon battle with a ghastly 6-15 record, Johnson knows the 13-8 Warriors won't be able to unleash any new attacking footy unless the seventh-placed side muscles up first.
"They've obviously had a bit of a tough season and they've probably got some personnel out that they'd have liked to have had in there but one thing that never changes with the Dogs is their scrap mentality," he said.
"They are a tough side, every time I've played them you know you're in for a tough day so it's going to be no different this Sunday. We have to expect they're going to come out and roughen us up a bit, get in our face so we've got to walk straight into it."