Shaun Johnson was singled out for rare praise as coach Stephen Kearney hailed Friday night’s 36-16 flogging of the Panthers as the Warriors best performance of the season.
It was timely too as winger David Fusitu’a snared the initial headlines by scoring half of the home side’s six tries at Mt Smart Stadium as the Warriors stormed into September’s finals with a game to spare, albeit not before time.
But it was Johnson who impressed Kearney most on a night when there were stars across the park for the Auckland club, the returning Tohu Harris key among those.
Johnson is no stranger to plaudits and was ever present in attack as the Warriors needed him to be with veteran five-eight Blake Green side-lined with a calf strain.
But it wasn’t the playmaker’s trademark darts or catch-me-if-you can runs across field to put teammates into holes that had Kearney enthusing over Johnson’s performance.
Nor was it his 12 points from four conversions and two penalty goals, or the 127 metres he ran, or the two tackle busts, a line break, and a try assist he made.
"Quite honestly I thought that was Shaun's best performance of the year," said Kearney before delivering his curve ball centred around the 22 tackles Johnson made to round out a resolute defensive effort.
"What pleased me the most was the way he defended to be honest. They're not an easy team on that side with [Viliame] Kikau and [Waqa] Blake, they'd put anyone under pressure, but I thought Shaun did really well.
"I think he's been pretty consistent for most of the year. I thought he was good last week [in the one point loss to the Bulldogs] on the attaching side of the game but tonight he really just took charge of what we needed him to do."
Kearney also gave Blake Green's deputy, try-scoring Mason Lino, big wraps after the Samoan international stood up in just his seventh first grade appearance of the season and first since round 19..
"When Mas was out of the side for the last month or so I made mention to him that he needed to keep himself focused because I had no doubt he was going to play a part, which he has already at the start of the season, but that he was going to play a part in how we finish [the season].
"I said this to him six weeks ago and tonight was the opportunity and that's what he's done for us."
Captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck waivered, ever so briefly, from the Warriors season-long mantra of "one game at a time" when he was asked if the performance would give the side added confidence going into their first finals campaign in seven years.
"Yeah you'd think so," the fullback said.
"I think it was good just to back ourselves, trust in what we do. Last week we talked about that defensively against the Bulldogs that wasn’t us and today we showed what we do as Warriors.
"I'm just excited for the club and the boys, just to put this one to rest and lock down that spot in the finals."