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Off-contract five-eighth Shaun Johnson.

Sharks coach Josh Hannay has defended the latest criticism of Shaun Johnson, labelling the star playmaker as the key to their finals hopes heading into Sunday's clash with Canterbury.

Johnson came under fire for a lacklustre defensive performance against the Raiders last week that included nine missed tackles among the side's overall tally of 61.

The Sharks halfback found consistency alongside Matt Moylan to help the side string four wins together across May and June but the five-eighth's calf injury seems to have stalled Johnson's momentum.

"I've had a couple of really good conversations with Shaun since the game and being the professional he is, he's his own harshest critic," Hannay said.

"He was as disappointed with his performance as anyone. Some of the criticism has been unfair but not surprising because that's the game.

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"He wasn't on his own in not having the best game the other night but people quickly forget the consistency we were able to play with for six weeks prior to last week.

"He was such a catalyst to our game and the way we were playing. People have short memories but it is the world we live in."

It's not the first time the Warriors-bound halfback has come under the spotlight.  Hannay believes high-profile players in the game like Johnson are easy targets.

"I've got to admit I hate that about our culture, society and industry," he said.

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"We seem to love to tear people down. Shaun had a night where he wasn't at his best but just the response and coverage around someone having a bad day in our game, I find it really unhealthy.

"I wish those that cover our stars and heroes went about it a little differently. I don't know that we always consider the impact it has on those they're talking about.

"Shaun's a strong character but what people don't realise at the moment is Shaun's a family man and he's thousands of miles away from his family. He's going to miss his daughter's first birthday.

"These guys and their families are going through tough times at the moment."

Hannay said he'll be able to get a strong indication of the side's attitude early in their match against the bottom-placed Bulldogs, who upset the Sharks in round seven.

Cronulla slipped out of the top eight on points differential as a result of Canberra's win against the Eels on Thursday night.

"To be really honest we probably don't have the talent depth a lot of other teams in the competition have but one thing where we match up well is with our attitude and intent," Hannay said.

"You can tell in the early stages for us how we're feeling and looking with how we're going to play.

"It's visible in the way we carry ourselves with things like line speed and kick-chase … all those effort areas.

"We want to see that from the outset on Sunday. We'll know early on if we're up for the game."

Hannay said Moylan was likely to return for the Sharks in round 20 against the Sea Eagles.

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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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