League: Johnson to put second-season blues behind him

Shaun Johnson
Shaun Johnson
It happens to most sportsmen in any number of sports.

They arrive in a blaze of excitement and praise. They are the next big thing. The new wonder kid.

But then comes the inevitable fall. The dropped balls, the dumb plays, those million-dollar passes become schoolboy errors.

Warriors inside back Shaun Johnson has been there, done that.

When he started out playing for the Auckland-based side in 2011, he was soon seen as the second coming.

And as the Warriors went all the way to the grand final, his talent was plain to see.

But what goes up must come down, and last year Johnson struggled - along with the team - and the 2012 season ended with Johnson not even making the starting side.

Johnson had endured that difficult second-season syndrome which plagues many sportsmen.

But that season has gone and Johnson is adamant it is a memory and it is full steam ahead for the 2013 season.

''Last year did not go too well for the team and my form slipped away as well. I was very disappointed by the way it finished,'' he said.

''But that is behind us now. We have got a new coaching staff now, and some new players. Everyone is looking quite fresh. We've had a busy time of it with all the training we're doing and now it is starting to switch on to the game.''

That focus started last week for the first team squad with a pre-season match against the Penrith Panthers in Hamilton and will continue with a match against the Brisbane Broncos at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday. The Broncos arrived in Queenstown yesterday and will train in the resort for the next couple of days.

The Warriors lost to Penrith 32-18 but Johnson said it was not all about the result in the pre-season.

''We knew we were not going to be at our best and we had a lot of new players out there.

''But we're on track for the start of the season. We're not expecting miracles straight away. It is a long season and we've got to learn to play with each other. Just to get some minutes under the belt.''

New coach Matthew Elliot had brought in some fresh ideas, Johnson said, and that was always good for the players.

Thomas Leuluai has returned to the club after nearly a decade away and his inclusion may force Johnson to play at stand-off.

With James Malony moving to the Roosters, the No 6 jersey is up for grabs, although no matter what number he wears the emphasis will still be on Johnson to get his team across the tryline.

Todd Lowrie and Dane Nielsen have joined from Melbourne and it is hoped the Storm's winning mentality will be brought across the Tasman by the duo.

Johnson has never been to Dunedin and was looking forward to playing under the roof at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

''I've heard a little bit about it. My brother works for the turf company who looks after the stadium and the field. It will be the first time I get to play under a roof which is exciting.''

Johnson should find the hard turf to his liking, with his tinkling and dazzling feet sure to be quick across the grass. He also will have the chance to test himself in the goal-kicking department although he admitted it had ''not been too flash'' in Hamilton last Saturday.

Goal-kicking, though, has taken a back seat in the past couple of months as the concentration has been on getting fitness levels up.

''It is always a big part of the game. We have been pushed to our limits. We've done the sand dunes, been at army camps where you get woken up at 2am and asked to make decisions and carry out things. It all puts you under pressure like you face in every game.''

Meanwhile, Jerome Ropati will play his first game in 10 months and Todd Lowrie his first for his new club against the Broncos on Saturday night, APNZ reports. Ropati was last year sidelined by a knee injury in the club's 10th-round match against the Sydney Roosters.

The 28-year-old has been named on the bench for his planned return in the Warriors' final trial.

Lowrie missed last weekend's trial against Hamilton when he returned home after the death of his grandfather but will line up at loose forward in his first outing for the Warriors after joining the club from Melbourne.

Also returning are Sam and Steve Rapira, who were ruled out of the Hamilton hit-out after being named originally.

Warriors head coach Matthew Elliott was especially pleased the way had been cleared for Ropati to make his comeback.

''It has been another long battle back from injury for Jerome and we've all admired the way he has gone about it,'' he said.

Warriors team
To play Broncos
Kevin Locke, Bill Tupou, Dane Nielsen, Konrad Hurrell, Manu Vatuvei, Thomas Leuluai, Shaun Johnson, Jacob Lillyman, Elijah Taylor, Ben Matulino, Feleti Mateo, Simon Mannering (c), Todd Lowrie. Interchange: Glen Fisiiahi, Charlie Gubb, Sam Rapira, Carlos Tuimavave, Alehana Mara, Jerome Ropati, Sebastine Ikahihifo, Steve Rapira.

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