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Townsend confident Johnson's teething problems over

Chad Townsend admits teething problems were expected with Shaun Johnson's move to Cronulla but believes his halves partner has found a rhythm in the Sharks system.

Given all of Johnson's 162 NRL matches prior to this season came for the Warriors, Townsend said it was logical the Kiwi international would struggle to start in an unfamiliar club and country.

Not helping the enigmatic five-eighth were repeated hamstring issues that robbed him of valuable game time alongside Townsend in the early stages of the year.

The pair's stretch of six matches together is their longest streak of 2019, highlighting the disjointed nature of the Sharks' campaign.

"His first season away from the Warriors was always going to be a challenge. Obviously a new culture, new standards, new coaching staff, new team, new plays, things like that," said Townsend, who played alongside Johnson at the New Zealand club in 2014-15.

"So it's taken some time but I think the last few weeks he's gone into the next gear and I thought he was outstanding. Running the ball, challenging the line, making breaks. And that's what people expect or people want to see when Shaun Johnson plays.

"I'm always into him about running the ball and taking the line on … I drive the standard in terms of the game plan and the kicking game but we want Shaun Johnson running the ball."

Sharks v Rabbitohs - Round 20

Johnson topped 100 running metres and set up two tries in last week's 16-14 win against North Queensland that could be the turning point of his and Cronulla's season.

The fixture was also significant for Townsend, who assisted his first try in five weeks after a blazing start to the year in which he laid on 10 tries in 14 rounds.

The premiership-winning halfback felt his form was solid throughout the barren period – coinciding with a losing slump for Cronulla – but said his attacking chances were restricted because the Sharks continued to turn over possession.

Townsend had only 37 touches of the footy against the Warriors in round 18 as Cronulla made a swathe of errors in yardage. He asserted his dominance through 74 receipts versus North Queensland with the Sharks completing their sets at 78%.

"It was just a matter of completions. In the Warriors [game], we got tackled twice inside their 20-metre line. So that limits your opportunities to touch the ball and get plays on and get shapes on," he said.

"On the flip-side, you saw against the Cowboys what happens when you actually complete. It allows the halves to come into the game, and those stats in terms of touches really show what it means when you hold the ball and give yourself a chance to attack."

Aiding Cronulla's playmakers against the Cowboys was a vastly improved showing from their big men.

Captain Paul Gallen was inspirational, while every member of the starting pack except second-rower Briton Nikora and hooker Jayden Brailey surpassed 130 metres.

Townsend: The Bunnies are flying under the radar

Veteran prop Matt Prior hadn't cracked three figures carrying the ball in five rounds and said it was pleasing to step up.

"My last five rounds weren't great along with the team. We've all been struggling for form and I guess my form's dropped as a result of that," Prior told

"It was good to get over a hundred metres and have a good game."

Trailing the top eight by two points with six matches remaining in the regular season, the Sharks face a daunting task in toppling the second-placed Rabbitohs on Saturday night at PointsBet Stadium.

They are full strength for the first time this year with Andrew Fifita, Matt Moylan and Wade Graham returning.

"It's always good to have everyone on deck but in saying that, we've had a few blokes back for other games and haven't performed," Prior said.

"It's up to us to perform this weekend and I guess that's what we've got to get out there and do."

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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