Johnson the Sharks' silver lining in loss to rising Warriors
THANKFUL his Warriors reunion is over, Shaun Johnson believes he's coming into the kind of form that can revive a Cronulla NRL campaign plunging close to finals oblivion.
The celebrated Warriors halfback of eight seasons said he was gutted to fall short 19-18 against his former club, admitting the match in Wellington on Friday night had played on his mind for some time and was like nothing he had experienced before.
While the emotions weren't as pronounced as if the game had been staged at his old Auckland stomping ground of Mt Smart Stadium, Johnson said his nerves had escalated before kick-off.
"It was different, it's something I'm glad is out of the way now," he told AAP.
"Even like running out there and seeing them warming up at the other end of the field, things like that (felt strange). But once you're into it, it's like a normal game."
The crowd largely left the 28-year-old alone aside from booing as he lined up the first conversion, of a Briton Nikora try he had created.
Johnson brushed that aside, having predicted there would be some fan antagonism after his acrimonious exit from the club last November.
Banter with former teammates throughout the game was lighthearted, he said.
Johnson couldn't be blamed for Cronulla's fifth straight loss, which could leave them in the bottom four by the end of the weekend.
He looked sharp on a dangerous right edge and admitted he was feeling close to his best form after missing five games with a torn hamstring that required a careful return initially.
"I'm really starting to find my feet, stringing some training sessions, stringing some games together," he said.
"It's been a disruptive start to the season so it's been disappointing in that sense. It's definitely giving me confidence by completing training and getting through games."
Johnson's opportunities will continue to be limited if his team keep racking up the high penalty and error counts that sunk them in Wellington.
"I thought the amount of ball we gave them, they probably should have put a fair score on us," he said.
"Just shooting ourselves in the foot at the moment but I think we still scored more tries than them (3-2). It's been the story of our last five games to be fair, which is really frustrating."
Accidental match-winner Blake Green was relieved the Warriors had snatched two points from a tight contest, believing they hadn't been rewarded lately for their domination in games.
Green potted the decisive field goal in the 19-18 nail-biter, delivering the Warriors a seventh win that lifts them past the flailing Sharks and on the verge of the top eight.
Fellow half Kodi Nikorima would probably have been lining up the one-pointer were it not for an ankle injury picked up while scoring an earlier try.
Green slotted the first field goal of his 153-match career, admitting it was a skill rarely needed when playing alongside Cooper Cronk (Melbourne), Daly Cherry-Evans (Manly) and Johnson (Warriors).
Getting to 18-18 has become commonplace for the Warriors this month but they hashed field goals in going down by one point to Penrith and drawing with Brisbane.
Green felt they deserved better from both those contests, which he felt they dominated.
"It's probably relief, we've had some really close battles. Teams haven't been able to get on top of us and squash us completely out of the game," he said.
"Last week's draw was pretty deflating. I thought we were pretty dominant physically.
"Tonight was the same, we dominated for some big periods... so it would have been a tough one to take."
Green, who also bagged an earlier try with speed not always obvious in his playmaking role, was delighted the Warriors showed they could win without injured wingers Ken Maumalo (concussion) and David Fusitu'a (hamstring).
Former Sydney Roosters junior Adam Pompey made a sound debut, while veteran Blake Ayshford plugged the gap left by Fusitu'a at late notice, making just a third appearance in two seasons.
Skipper Roger Tuivasa-Sheck made up for the metres lost by the hulking wingers, storming for 300m in another colossal performance.
Fusitu'a is likely to miss next week's game against Parramatta, while Nikorima could be in doubt, having slipped into a moon boot after full-time.