JOHNSON BLOCKING THE OUTSIDE NOISE

Few players are as well-versed with the fickle nature of rugby league – in particular, the code’s critics and fans – as Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson.

It’s why he was openly disappointed yet circumspect after the Warriors’ season-worst 36-4 loss to Penrith in Round 17. And why he was satisfied yet guarded following their stirring 26-6 demolition of Brisbane a week later.

Johnson knows he and the team are only ever 80 minutes away from over-the-top bouquets or overly-harsh brickbats coming their way on the airwaves, print or online.

So despite the Warriors’ Suncorp Stadium stunner, the No.7 wizard is tempering expectations ahead of a home blockbuster against Melbourne Storm on Sunday.

“Obviously there’s been a lot said about the performance against the Panthers, so to be able to come up here and put on a show like that, it’s very pleasing. It says a lot about our group,” Johnson said after the win over the Broncos.

“You saw last week it was a completely different conversation after the game, so we’re not going to get carried away.

“We understand how perceptions change week to week, and this week it’s going to be a good week for us. We can get back and get into our work without worrying about outside noise.”

Some say it’s the price of being an enigmatic team. The gap between the Warriors’ best and worst in 2018 has been monumental – they have lost four games by 20 points or more, after not losing by more than 20 points at all during a disastrous 2017 campaign that garnered only seven wins.

But the fact remains the Warriors boast an 11-6 record – the second-best in club history for this stage of the season – and remain right in the mix for top-four spot. Their ability to respond to a bad loss has been a key feature of their amazing turnaround this year: the Warriors have followed up each of the aforementioned heavy defeats with resounding victories.

Not that you would have thought they’d be able to bounce back out of a wet paper bag amidst the fallout of the Panthers loss.

“I was watching a bit of TV during the week and it’s funny, we were sitting on the same points as the Broncos going into this game but it was all about how the Raiders and all those teams were nipping at the Warriors’ heels,” Johnson bristled.

“It was never about the Broncos – the Raiders were nipping at the Warriors’ heels. It was like, ‘well hold on, there’s someone else here sitting on the same points as us’.”

Johnson copped it from all angles after the Panthers Stadium debacle. The ‘inconsistent’ tag that has followed him throughout a highlights-stacked career got a rigorous workout. Never mind that he is currently enjoying easily his most consistent season and the Penrith outing was his only genuinely poor performance this year.

It’s to the 27-year-old’s eternal credit that he is one of the NRL’s most accessible and sincere players when it comes to media duties. Win or lose, Johnson always fronts and answers questions thoughtfully. He’s a journo’s dream.

“We understand how people are going to talk, they’re going to write headlines and say what they need to say,” he said.

“But for us, it’s no different to us how we prepared this week leading into this game.”

Meanwhile, Johnson is looking to use his game against the Broncos – frequently bobbing on the left and right sides of the field, causing havoc on both – as the blueprint for the rest of the year. Blake Green’s ‘conductor’ role has freed Johnson up and he was at his livewire best last Sunday.

“It’s about having those conversations with those key players about where I can inject myself without disrupting what the team’s doing really well.

“We got the balance of that pretty well today. I didn’t want to be fixated to one side – ‘Cappy’s’ (assistant coach Andrew McFadden) given me the free license to go and try find the ball – and I found myself in some good positions today.”

Perhaps it’s the experience of 154 NRL games and 25 Tests, but typically Johnson warns days like that don’t come along as often as everyone would like.

“I know it’s not going to be like that every week,” he said.

“You’re going to have games where you’re limited or teams shut you down in certain ways, but if I can keep that same mindset of just going after the footy and more times than not I should find myself with the ball in the right spots.”

The Warriors’ success this year has been achieved despite a modest 4-4 record at home. The most burdened team travel-wise in the competition has incredibly crafted a 7-2 record on the road – after winning just once in 12 games away from Auckland in 2017.

The Storm present another stern test for the Warriors at their Penrose base, and rectifying an unflattering tally of just two wins from their last six games as hosts is playing on their minds.

“We speak about making Mount Smart a fortress, but over the years winning at home’s never been an issue,” Johnson explained.

“For us especially, if you want to win this comp you’ve got to do it on the road. So it has been a bit of a trailblaze-type mindset for us. Every time we go somewhere – Perth was a big one, going to play North Queensland was another big one, going on the road and getting the job done. It is satisfying.

“But we’ve got to able to back it up at home. It’s our home fans, for one, and that’s where we love playing.

“We understand, though, that when you’re playing well you do get a bit of a bullseye on their back and the teams come over knowing that they’re up for a game and sometimes you fall a bit short.”

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