Shaun Johnson’s keenly-anticipated debut for the Cronulla Sharks ended with a 14-8 defeat to the Newcastle Knights in a wild, error-riddled encounter at McDonald Jones Stadium.
Edrick Lee’s sensational late intercept try clinched the result for the home side – the third four-pointer in a six-minute flurry after neither side could find one in the opening 68 minutes.
Warriors great Johnson had a mixed evening, but provided enough encouraging signs to suggest he will prove a valuable buy for the heavyweight Sharks, regardless of what the Twittersphere may say about the performance (and, incidentally, didn’t say about Kalyn Ponga’s ultra-quiet outing).
Josh Dugan fumbled three of Johnson’s askew passes during the first, while also bombing a try by hanging onto the ball after the No.6 had expertly created an overlap by running it on the last tackle.
Shaun Johnson and Dugan have been involved in everything that’s gone wrong for the Sharks so far 💩 #NRLKnightsSharks
— Ryan Gillatt (@Gillattsix) March 15, 2019
The teams headed to the sheds locked at nil-all, but Johnson looked to have sparked the opening try early in the second stanza by again taking the run option on the last tackle. Winger Sione Katoa was pinged for deliberately tapping the ball forward, however, denying Dugan’s claims to a try.
Johnson and Knights opposite Ponga, who was also kept well in check, traded penalty goals before Mitchell Pearce put recruit Tim Glasby over for the belated first try.
Johnson had been content to settle into a link-man and kicking role for most of the second half, but produced a beautiful grubber that saw Katoa controversially (and, in TWL’s opinion, bravely and justifiably) awarded a penalty try.
— NRL (@NRL) March 15, 2019
The scene appeared set for Johnson to steer the Sharks to victory with a field goal with five minutes left.
But halves partner Chad Townsend made a grave mistake in chancing his arm with a long cut-out ball, which former Shark Lee – who was outstanding defensively all game jamming in from his wing – plucked out of the air to run 85 metres for the match-winner.
— NRL (@NRL) March 15, 2019
“We were our own worst enemies, really,” Johnson said post-match.
“We just didn’t take our opportunities – we obviously created lots – and we weren’t icing things.
“We’re not expecting it to be all smoothing sailing and it’s going to be a work in progress, but when you beat yourself it’s always pretty disappointing.”
The match was played against the back-drop of the horrifying events that unfolded in Christchurch just hours earlier. A minute’s silence was observed pre-game for the people who lost their lives and others effect in the terrorist attack.
— Sporting News Australia (@sportingnewsau) March 15, 2019
But Johnson, whose brother lives in Christchurch, refuted the suggestion that the tragedy could have been a distraction.
“Obviously (we’re) really devastated with what’s happened back home, and I’ve got family down in Christchurch so it’s pretty close to home, but that’s no excuse for anything that happened out here tonight.”
Newcastle Knights 14 (Tim Glasby, Edrick Lee tries; Kalyn Ponga 3 goals) defeated Cronulla Sharks 8 (Sione Katoa penalty try; Shaun Johnson 2 goals) at McDonald Jones Stadium