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Goals set high but 'magic' Johnson racking up plenty of assists

He mightn't always be the flashy dynamo that burst onto the NRL scene nine years ago, but Sharks five-eighth Shaun Johnson is still very much an elite playmaker.

Cronulla coach John Morris made that point after the 29-year-old five-eighth reached into his bag of magic tricks to play a starring role in the side's 40-22 victory over Manly at Central Coast Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

Johnson has copped criticism despite the fact he is the leading the competition for try assists with 10. He had two against the Sea Eagles.

Morris said the Kiwi international was perhaps held to a higher standard because of his brilliant best.

"We always expect so much out of Shaun and rightly so, he's a fantastic player and shown what he can do. But sometimes we expect that every time he touches the ball," Morris said.

Match Highlights: Sea Eagles v Sharks

"But if you look at his stats compared to other halves in the NRL, he's right up there as far as running the ball, engaging the line, he's leading the NRL in try assists.

"His defence has been rock solid this year. So there's so much of Shaun Johnson's game that I suppose doesn't go unnoticed, but it's certainly appreciated by us.

"But if he makes a mistake, everyone likes to call him out for it. He's managing that really good, he's really focused off the field and he knows what it takes for him to play well."

Johnson loops a pass over to Goodwin

Johnson's halves partner Chad Townsend and fullback Matt Moylan were also superb with three and two try assists respectively.

It was only the sixth time the trio and skilful captain Wade Graham had all played together.

"Just that time out on the field is priceless," Morris said.

"The more we can play with those four out on the field, they touch the ball the most, if we can get them all playing to their best, no doubt we're a pretty good footy side."

Despite their standout efforts in back-to-back victories, Morris sees plenty of improvement left in Johnson and Townsend.

Another senior player in prop Andrew Fifita also stood up to be counted after a barrage of recent criticism, coming off the bench to charge for 149 metres in 31 minutes.

Morris called Fifita, who had been hampered by knee and calf injuries earlier this season, Cronulla's "spiritual leader".

"I felt that bringing him back into the game when fatigue comes into the game, a big body like that, he could really do some damage," Morris said.

"He's bought into it. Andrew's team-first. His minutes are less than what we've seen in the past, but I've been playing four middles on my bench ... If I can get more out of Andrew for less time, I think that's a win-win for the him and the team."

Sharks: Round 7

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The coach wasn't getting carried away but was pleased to see the Sharks show consistency, especially against their old rivals.

"We haven't got a good track record against Manly and the boys were pretty keen to turn that around," Morris said.

"I sensed that in their attitude this week, that they wanted to take a stand for that. They weren't happy with the games we played against them last year."

Josh Dugan was taken off the field with 14 minutes to go, but Townsend said that was precautionary as the strike centre had a "tight calf".

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