Warriors' star half finding form at right time
SHAUN Johnson is timing his run to perfection as the Warriors gather a head of steam for their return to the NRL finals.
The Warriors have been missing from September action since 2011, but the stars are slowly aligning for a team whose 36-16 home trumping of Penrith on Friday night was tagged by players and coach Stephen Kearney alike as their best performance this year.
The Panthers puts in a tame performance in Auckland, falling 36-4 behind in the 66th minute.
Standing tallest for the Warriors was marquee playmaker Johnson, the conductor of a right-edge attack that has been peerless in the competition this season.
David Fusitu'a's competition-leading total of 21 tries is largely the outcome of Johnson's brilliance, along with the class of second-rower Tohu Harris, who returned from a seven-week injury break in style against the Panthers.
Johnson has been overshadowed in recent times by the spectacular ball running of captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
However, the halfback deserved the acclaim on Friday night, having shown glimpses of his best in the lead-up, including during last week's one-point loss to Canterbury.
"I thought he was good last week with the attacking side, but tonight he just took charge of what we needed to do," Kearney said.
"I thought that was Shaun's best performance of the year.
"What pleased me most about it was the way he defended. They're not an easy side on that side, the Panthers, with (Viliame) Kikau and (Waqa) Blake there. They put anyone under pressure."
Kearney issued a call for a more polished Warriors attack earlier this month and is delighted he's got it.
His only new concern is a shoulder injury to Ken Maumalo.
There is a good chance five-eighth Blake Green and Gerard Beale could both return for their final-round encounter against the Canberra Raiders in Auckland.
Kearney expects they'll all want to be part of a historic match in which club great Simon Mannering becomes the first player to notch 300 games for the Warriors.
"It is a significant week for our most decorated player. I'm just sure that he'll want everyone to do their jobs and that's what we'll focus on," Kearney said.