PANTHERS 16 WARRIORS 30
SHAUN JOHNSON has set the rugby league world alight over the past year with his freakish skills, but the Warriors halfback last night conceded he wanted to be remembered for more than just his party tricks.
In conditions unfriendly to the fleet-footed and naturally gifted, Johnson last night showed off an entire new set of skills in his repertoire with a patient and tactical performance to guide his team to victory over the Panthers.
Manu Vatuvei goes over the line to score for the Warriors. Photo: Getty Images
His short and long kicking ensured his side were on the front foot for most of the match, playing the ideal game on a night when field position was of great importance.
The Warriors No.7 has been touted as the future of New Zealand rugby league, but in an honest assessment of his career path, the 21-year-old admitted he couldn't continue to rely on the miracle plays if he is to develop into a top-line player.
''I think it's a bit different this year,'' Johnson said as he reflected on his side's charge to the grand final last season.
Penrith Panthers v NZ Warriors
The Warriors overcame a furious Penrith comeback to get one over former coach Ivan Cleary with a 30-16 NRL win in atrocious conditions at CUA Stadium on Monday night. Photo: Getty
''Last year I was just pulled up for all the flashy stuff - the runaways and the flashy business - but this year I'm trying to do the little things around the ruck, be a bit more direct and play a bit tougher. I can't keep playing those flashy things if I want to progress in the game.''
Johnson spoke about earning the respect of his teammates, and performances like last night are going to help the young halfback in his bid to further gain the admiration and trust of the rest of the group.
While he has no intention of erasing the flashiness from his game, Johnson is intent on playing a smarter and tougher brand of football as he rapidly morphs into the general of the Warriors' attack.
Kevin Kingston of the Panthers celebrates his try. Photo: Getty Images
''I was very humbled by all the words and all the awards and all the nice stuff said about me last year,'' he said. ''But as a player you always want to keep improving. Hopefully tonight's performance would've earned me a little respect from the boys.
''There wasn't that much chance to do that flashy stuff, but I thought I played direct and really bossed the boys around. That, I'm very happy with.''
While he enjoys the flashes of brilliance, Warriors skipper Simon Mannering said he would much rather prefer a repeat of last night's level-headed performance from his halfback in the coming weeks.
The Warriors Alemana Mara. Photo: Getty Images
''[His flashiness] is what makes him stand out from the rest, but I enjoy it when he does the basics well like his kicking,'' Mannering said.
''He's always going to have that flashy side to him coming from that touch footy background, but I enjoy it when he gets the team in the grind and kicks well because you know he's got that flashiness inside him, that if we do need to jag a try, he can do it.
''It was good to see him play smart and turn their boys around when we needed to. The boys appreciate that side of his footy.''
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary, who handed Johnson his NRL debut midway through last year, wasn't surprised to see the player he unearthed turn out such an influential display.
''He's a huge talent, obviously,'' Cleary said. ''I thought tonight was a pretty mature performance, really.''
WARRIORS 30 (M Vatuvei 2 K Hurrell K Locke J Maloney tries J Maloney 5 goals) bt PENRITH 16 (G Daniela K Kingston J Mansour tries L Walsh 2 goals) at Centrebet Stadium. Referee: Steve Lyons, Brett Suttor. Crowd: 5,778.